Taylor: Hanging onto imaginary ropes

We’re tied to beliefs with little–or no–foundation.

Here in the northern hemisphere, the midday sun sinks lower towards the southern horizon every day.

We know it will come back up. Ancient civilizations could not be as confident. They erected solar observatories, like Stonehenge, to track what they saw as the sun’s—not the Earth’s—wobble. They set tunnels deep into earth mounds, as at Newgrange in Ireland, which would be penetrated by sunlight on only one moment a year.

In South America, the Incas built their temples around a stone hitching post. The rest of the structure could consist of individual stones, meticulously fitted to withstand recurring earth tremors. But the hitching post itself had to be carved from solid bedrock. Because it anchored the imaginary rope that reined in the sun from its headlong plunge towards the horizon.

Imaginary ropes? It sounds ridiculous to the modern mind.

Because we now know exactly why the sun arcs overhead. It’s all about the tilt of the Earth’s axis relative to the plane of the Earth’s annual ecliptic orbit around the sun. (If that explanation makes little sense to you, you might prefer the imaginary rope.)

Thanks to astronomy and mathematics, we can calculate exactly when the sun will reverse its decline. In the Okanagan, that moment comes at 3:03 p.m., Pacific Time, on Sunday, Dec. 21.

But I wonder how many imaginary ropes we still wrap around bedrock beliefs.

Almost every civilization has some kind of festival of lights. Diwali, Chanukah, Christmas—they all occur during the months when darkness increases its momentum. In our culture, even pagans and atheists celebrate Christmas. Are those lights, perhaps, our imaginary rope—a symbolic act that defies the darkness to advance any farther, an affirmation that darkness cannot overcome us?

It’s no coincidence that Christmas happens near the winter solstice.

The Roman festival of Saturnalia was also a time of candles and extravagant light. It suspended most of the social rules. For the week around the winter solstice, slaves and owners mingled in an atmosphere of pseudo-equality. Laws and prohibitions were temporarily suspended, with lots of singing, dancing and drinking.

In that freewheeling atmosphere, the new Christian communities could celebrate without fear of persecution. Any other time of year, they were considered traitors; they refused to worship the Roman emperor as god.

So, December 25 became their imaginary rope, connecting them to Jesus’ birth. But his birth date wasn’t actually made official until AD 354.

Because there is nothing, absolutely nothing, in the Bible that defines that date of Jesus’ birth.

It wouldn’t be stated as December 25, of course. The calendars we use today didn’t exist yet. The Roman calendar of the time was based on the founding of Rome some 500 years before.

There isn’t even a reference that links Jesus’ birth to any of the Jewish festivals—unlike Easter, which is still associated with Passover.

But a lot of people remain convinced that Jesus wasn’t born on December 25. They wrap their imaginary rope around an imaginary date, and hang on tight.

I wonder how many other imaginary ropes we keep hanging onto.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Vernon Public Art Gallery's new Regional Reach program which sends supplies and lessons to classes, has been a hit in the North Okanagan classrooms. (VPAG photo)
Travelling art kit a hit in North Okanagan schools

Art Gallery’s new Regional Reach program delivers art education to the classrooms

A kaleidescope of colours was captured over Lake Country Sunday, Feb. 28. (Wendey Innes-Shaw photo)
Colourful close to month with North Okanagan sunset

From all angles: Vernon and Lake Country photographers capture sunset Feb. 28

The Okanagan Screen Arts Society is set to take over Vernon’s historic Towne Cinema on 30th Avenue June 1 as fundraising for building upgrades is a third of the way to its goal. (Photo contributed)
Historic Vernon cinema rolling into society’s hands

Okanagan Screen Arts Society will take over and run with volunteers the Towne Cinema starting June 1

(File photo)
UBCO introduces another reading break in November

The break only affects the Okanagan campus

A man wearing a mask against coronavirus walks past an NHS advertisement about COVID-19 in London, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
92 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths: Interior Health

The region is reporting 92 cases after the weekend

Langley resident Carrie MacKay shared a video showing how stairs are a challenge after spending weeks in hospital battling COVID-19 (Special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Stairs a challenge for B.C. woman who chronicled COVID-19 battle

‘I can now walk for six (to) 10 minutes a day’

Pastafarian Gary Smith, pictured here dressed as a pirate, wanted to wear his tricorn (also pictured here) in his driver’s licence photo, arguing that the display was a religious observance. Photo: Facebook
B.C. Pastafarian loses Supreme Court fight to wear pirate hat in driver’s licence photo

Gary Smith of Grand Forks, put his case to the Supreme Court in Rossland in early February

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation, May 8, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C.’s weekend COVID-19 cases: 532 Saturday, 508 Sunday, 438 Monday

Fraser Health still has most, eight more coronavirus deaths

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

City council passed resolution in support of an expansion of the licence area at Salmon Arm’s Marionette Winery for the inclusion of a lounge area. (Marionette Winery/Facebook)
Salmon Arm council supports lounge addition at Shuswap winery

Marionette Winery expanding licence area to host small gatherings

An injured skier was helivaced from Apex Mountain Resort to Kelowna General Hospital Monday, March, 2021. (Linda Geggie / Facebook)
Injured skier helivaced from Apex Mountain Resort

The skier was taken to Kelowna General Hospital

B.C. Attorney General David Eby speaks in the legislature, Dec. 7, 2020. Eby was given responsibility for housing after the October 2020 provincial election. (Hansard TV)
B.C. extends COVID-19 rent freeze again, to the end of 2021

‘Renoviction’ rules tightened, rent capped to inflation in 2022

Face mask hangs from a rear-view mirror. (Black Press image)
B.C. CDC unveils guide on how to carpool during the pandemic

Wearing masks, keeping windows open key to slowing the spread of COVID-19

Most Read