Christmas was beautiful. Nothing on earth can match the Wonder which came from above, took on human flesh, died, was resurrected, and dwells with us in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ through His Holy Spirit—God Himself. Great is Thy Faithfulness.
And now we are moving into what is, for me, an exciting time. Since winter solstice, when we had eight hours and fifty-nine minutes of daylight here in Nashotah, Wisconsin, we have gained THREE MINUTES of daylight. THREE MINUTES. Great is Thy faithfulness, indeed! Every year at this time, I experience a surge which continues to expand in increments as the daylight increases.
I can handle winter, and find the snow (which we have finally received) to be gorgeous—even though I no longer roll in it the way I once did. Our corgi, Dylan, rolls in the snow. Living with the cold is do-able because: a) I love Wisconsin through sickness and health, till death do us part; b) Joe and I are blessed with a cozy, warm home; and c) There is plenty of wool around here in the form of blankets, and also wearable art—the fruit of this woman’s endless knit-omania.
I live with the cold, but find decreased daylight to be a piece of work. Often I wonder if diminished daylight challenges my soul because I was summer-born. Likewise, is the post-Christmas energy surge due to increased moments of daylight creating a chemical reaction in the brain, or do I begin to get hyper because of past experience and my knowledge of seasonal changes?
A 19th century ornithologist, Johann Andreas Naumann, noted that caged migratory birds exhibit migratory restlessness (Zugunruhe) and turn to the direction of migration at appropriate times, in response to circannual rhythms. Can human instincts have remained so finely tuned as those of birds, despite our centuries of civilization and cultural conditioning?
The exercise of pondering moot questions never grows old. As I plug in a CD from our large collection of Celtic music, I wonder if it’s “ethnic memory” that causes my blood to throb and my body to move involuntarily to the music. Irish Celtic, yes. And Scottish Celtic? Well, the shrieking of bagpipes* sends me into orbit like no other sound except that of a train whistle. God willing, “Amazing Grace” will thunder via pipes and a piper in kilts at my Going Home Celebration when the time comes.
Here is my known ethnicity, although most of my people came to this continent so long ago that I might logically be considered “American”. My father’s ancestors were Swiss and Alsatian, and my mothers—Scottish and Northern Irish. The Northern Irish were Scots to begin with, but they were sent by the English Crown from the Scottish Borders to “Protestant-ize” Northern Ireland.**
Now I have loved both of my parents and always will, with equal loyalty. They were, and always will be, great individuals for whom I’m eternally grateful. I am pleased to have received, via the gene pool, some of my Dad’s traits along with some of Mother’s.
But yodeling? Big in the Swiss Alps, I know—but a yodel simply does nothing whatsoever for my soul, regardless of the skill with which it may be performed. Line a yodel up against Celtic fiddles, Celtic harps, or Scottish bagpipes and I’m sorry but you don’t even have a hint of a contest.
So why do The Irish Rovers, The Chieftans, and others of their ilk throw me over the moon? It cannot be from childhood exposure, as we never had that kind of music in my home of origin. Music was classical (which I continue to love). My mother was a gifted pianist and I was raised on Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert, etc.
For lighter moments we had the comic operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan and some old folk songs such as The Londonderry Air. But the squealing, banging, and thumping of The Chieftains, and the robust, earthy tunes of the Irish Rovers would never have made it to 85 Park Street and other places where I once lived and breathed and had my being. My mother was tremendously delighted with her Campbell of Argyll roots, but I don’t recall her doing cartwheels to bagpipes. So do I squeal, bang, and thump to the Chieftans because of ethnic memory, or is this response simply an acquired taste?
And whether chemically driven or just a matter of understanding how the seasons progress, my passion for lengthening days is far from moot. It’s a tangible reality which inspires a hymn of praise: “Great is Thy faithfulness, oh God our Father.”
Margaret L. Been — December 31st, 2015.
*I love the humorous bit of lore shared by an Irish storyteller at Milwaukee’s Irish Fest: “The Irish gave the bagpipes to the Scots, but the Scots ‘didn’t get it’.”
**Regardless of Northern Irish roots, my sympathies have always been with the long-suffering and now Republic of Ireland.