Colmar also has its festive decorations but the reason I went there today was to see again the paintings by Grunewald in the Unterlinden Museum. Actually, really only one, The Risen Christ. When I first saw a reproduction of this several years ago, I felt like shouting for joy. Or singing many hosannas. For all the paintings and sculptures and representations of Christ on the cross, these ubiquitous images, where I wondered, were the uplifting ones, that showed that life never dies, that shows rebirth and renewal? Well, we have one. Two actually, as today in the Unterlinden, I saw another one, by Martin Schongauer. But the Grunewald is still the most impressive.
In the early hours of the 22nd December, the sun moves from the sign of Sagittarius into Capricorn. In other words, astronomically, we have the solstice, and from now on, the days get longer, the sun rises higher in the sky, there is more light. Before the emergence of the religions that we are familiar with today, this time was celebrated by people who we call pagan nowadays [from the Latin paganus, which simply means the countryside, the land]. When humanity and nature were in closer communion than they are today. The sun, Sol, was worshipped as the life-bringer that it is. A great feast was held, to celebrate this occasion of the solstice – the Saturnalia. The Christian celebration of Christmas was grafted onto this seasonal and celebratory event.
For me, it is still, and always, about this blazing star, this source of light, we circle around on our small and astonishingly beautiful planet.
Solstice, from the Latin, means the sun stops, stands still. It does not of course, actually stop. But something shifts, changes direction, at this time of year. And because it involves the relationship between earth and sun you could say that everything changes. The angle of the light as it hits earth and us, will become less acute, moving away from horizontal as the sun climbs higher in the sky.