I was raised Catholic but in my heart I know I'm 97% pagan. The remaining 2% is a mixture of Buddhism, Judaism, Neoplatonism, Southern Baptist and Mathematician. I thought for a while about joining that Heaven's Gate church. I loved the astronomy but hated the shoes. (Are there any cults that wear Pumas?)
Also, I've dabbled. I mean, get on your knees once and you're a catechumen, twice and you're an alter boy. I remember once I was being... but I digress*. Where was I? Ah yes, Paganism.
It doesn't surprise me that this time of year held a special place to our great grandmonkeys. The longest night of the year, coming with the faint promise of Spring. It's like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel when you're still only three-eighths of they way in.
We totally take light for granted. In fact, I cant seem to get away from it. Not only does it seep in through the curtains at all hours, but every new gadget I bring into the house has two or thirteen glowy, blinky LEDs on it. When I was little the only night-light I had to comfort me was my mom's glowing cigarette butt rising and falling in the dark. Now it's like trying to sleep in that sad glass cage at the airport, but without all the emphysema.
Once in college I took an unofficial tour of an old copper mine. I and some fraternity brothers snuck into the abandoned shaft, making sure we each had two working flashlights going in. Deep inside we all turned them off for a good ten minutes. Even giving our eyes time to adjust, it was the darkest dark I'd ever seen.
That's what impressed me most from that elicit expedition. After the first few moments, our echoing laughter faded to a creepy silence. The darkness went from being the mere lack of light to become a physical, palpable entity wrapping itself around us. I began to feel claustrophobic and I realized that without our flashlights, we would literally die. There would have been no way we could have blindly found our way out of that labyrinth while avoiding the dangerous pits and flooded shafts.
So it makes perfect sense to me that, at a time when light was a precious and limited resource, people would find any reason to celebrate turning the corner and put the longest night behind them.
And of course, they'd celebrate with light.
* My apologies to Doctor Evil.