The magic of the season We emerged from the drab grey concrete of the underground parking garage into a scene of such beauty that we all gasped.
A few friends had driven to Béziers to see that city’s holiday light show and Christmas market, followed by a yummy dinner at a nearby restaurant. The first thing we saw was the musical fountains, which had us clapping our hands in delight. The fountains were choreographed—both with the movement of the water and with changing colors—to dance along with the Christmas music that was being broadcast on loudspeakers.
A bonus was that we were two days from the full moon, which added to the magic of the evening.
Some friends and I had planned a magical voyage to celebrate the holidays: Christmas in Alsace, followed by New Year’s in Paris. As the departure day approached, I felt like a giddy child, squirming with anticipation at the delights to come.
Winter festivities There’s a luscious full moon outside my window as I write this post, and the winter solstice is just two days away. In the northern hemisphere, this is the darkest day of the year, an occurrence that led to early rituals which continue to this day, many of them incorporated in more recent celebrations such as Hanukkah and Christmas.
Perhaps it’s human nature, or maybe it’s our western culture, but we tend to shy away from darkness, both the physical darkness of night, and the emotional darkness of some of our feelings. We avoid the darkness with busy-ness, never more so than at this time of year. We shop, we wrap, we cook, we decorate, and we party at a dizzying pace.
Where were you in the year 1226? There is a rare treat awaiting us on this year’s winter solstice. It’s called the Great Conjunction, and the last time humans could see it like this was on March 4, 1226.
When two planets in our solar system appear close to each other—from Earth’s perspective—it’s called a conjunction. When it happens with the two biggest planets, Jupiter and Saturn, it’s called the Great Conjunction, which occurs around every 20 years. However, it’s quite rare when they appear to be overlapping each other AND are visible from earth. The last time they looked this close to each other was during Galileo’s time, in 1623, but the planets also lined up so close to the sun that they weren’t visible from Earth. The next time this will happen is relatively soon: 2080.
The holiday season is winding down, with all the busy-ness of shopping, wrapping, mailing, cooking, and partying. I’ve gathered some photographs from my celebrations of both Christmas and New Year’s Eve to give you an idea of how things looked in my corner of paradise.
Christmas — Noël
On Christmas Eve—Réveillon de Noël—I joined some of my French friends for a visit to Narbonne to stroll through the Christmas market, watch the parade, and hope for a glimpse of Père Noël (Santa Claus). A week later, on New Year’s Eve—Réveillon du Nouvel An, or Saint Sylvestre—I was with many of the same folks to share a meal and watch the festivities televised from Paris, where 400,000 cold revelers crowded the Champs-Élysées.
Green stamps When I was very young, I remember my mother collecting S&H Green Stamps.* The stamps were green, they carried different point values (1, 10, and 50), and they came in perforated sheets, like postage stamps. When you bought things, mainly groceries, but also lots of other things, the merchant would hand you the receipt along with a row or block of the stamps whose point value related to the sale total.