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« Lee Myung-bak as a reminder that Korea is not as Confucian as some would want us to think. | Main | Another Taoist Christmas »

December 22, 2007

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I don't think we have to get too theoretical about all of this. I grew up on a farm in Canada, and it was pretty obvious what Christmas was all about.

First of all, December 25th is about as late as anyone could possibly work in the fields. (I remember plowing one Christmas eve and sometimes I had to drop the plow twice to get it to break through the frost instead of simply sliding on top of the corn stubble.) So this is the natural time for an agricultural population to have a vacation.

Secondly, it is about the time when you can be pretty sure that you aren't going to get a long thaw (at least before global warming), so it is the time to kill your livestock without fear of the meat going bad. And it makes no sense to wait longer, because they will just eat more fodder. So there would be lots of meat.

Third, the vegetables and fruit are at their best. The potatoes and apples aren't soft yet, and there would still be pumpkins and squash available.

Finally, I suspect that in times past with the cold there would be minimal chance of warfare plus the wolves and cougars wouldn't be suffering from hunger yet and the bears would be hibernating, so travel would be relatively safe.

So I think the Winter solstice is the optimal time for any temperate climate agricultural society to hold community-bonding celebrations.

And yes, it is a scary thing to go through winter when you live on the land. I can remember as a child being afraid that summer would never come again and we'd all starve to death. And in pre-modern eras that was not a totally illogical fear. There had been times when the crops failed locally and people starved. It is only in modern times that this is not a grim reality hovering in the background of the collective unconscious.

I agree that any Daoist would understand the mechanisms involved and simply "go with the flow".

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