On Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022, the sun will stop falling from the elevated excursions across the sky that it reached in June, 2022, and will start climbing again. We refer to this as the winter solstice, the day when the sun “stands still.” This is called the solstice because it was long ago noticed by residents of the Northern Hemisphere that the arc of the sun across the sky each day made an about face at this time of the year and stopped drifting at midday lower in the sky and closer to the horizon. Of course, this was merely the way it looked to folks living in the Northern Hemisphere below the Arctic Circle. If they had checked with their neighbors to the north, they would have discovered that in some colder climes, the sun rose and stayed up for as long as six months.
There being little widespread knowledge of the basis for this solar migration (which is a consequence of the Earth’s tilt on its axis of rotation as it revolves around the sun), many of the purveyors of religions took advantage of the fear engendered by this phenomenon and offered the public remedies. With the receipt of various gifts, subsidies, or sacrifices, they could guarantee that the sun would not disappear. They knew what needed to be done to halt the decline of the sun’s transit and set it back on a course higher in the sky for several months. Their intervention was appreciated and rewarded. Given that humanity faced the same danger every year, their operation was institutionalized to manage this and numerous other tasks.
Consequently, the day of and the days surrounding the winter solstice became so important that various religions adopted that day or days as the birthday of their principal god or as the date of a memorable event when their god intervened on their behalf in violation of the laws of physics. The Persians proclaimed December 25 as the day Mithra, the god of the sun and contracts (yes, contracts), was born. Romans had Sol Invictus, their sun god, entering the world of men on or about the same day. No one need remind the residents of Easton or Connecticut or other primarily Christian locales what day is designated as the birthday of their Lord and Savior, even though a casual reading of the New Testament establishes that birth as having occurred long before the winter solstice.
And so it is that as the daylight begins its annual increase, many of us celebrate by shopping and exchanging gifts. It is as if we treat our family and friends as agents of the coming year and make sacrifices on their behalf. Even as inflation rages, transportation costs soar, and supply chain interruptions are the focus of dinner conversations, we feel obliged to get out or go on the Internet to acquire things that we and our friends and our family members have managed to do without all year. There is a delight in giving or receiving gifts around the winter solstice that is not experienced if the gifts are exchanged around the time of the summer solstice when the sun courses reassuringly high in the sky.
Charity and accommodation flow freely in most sectors of our nation at this time of year, except of course in the city where Ebenezer Scrooge’s unreformed heart still beats loudly, Washington, D.C. Our nation is still staggering from the onslaught of Covid-19, RSV infections, and the flu, as well as over 600 mass shootings so far this year, energy insecurity, terrorist threats from both foreign and domestic organizations, climate-related disasters, and irrepressible inflation. At a time when our nation needs a coherent and cohesive plan to address these problems, the leaders of the newly minted Congress assure us that they will pursue innumerable investigations unrelated to our current problems and will block any initiatives backed by the current administration to address these ongoing crises. To assure that our government will be paralyzed for at least two years, they have announced that they will seek the impeachment of the President, Vice-president, and Secretaries of State and Homeland Security.
What is evident is that many of the people that we have elected to national offices view the government as their possession, rather than as their opportunity to improve conditions for all of the people of the United States. Despite having taken oaths to uphold and protect the Constitution, they appear to be unfamiliar with its objectives. The very first sentence spells out those objectives. “We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” The majority of the incoming House of Representatives have explicitly stated that they will not concern themselves with any of these objectives.
What history has established is that regardless of the promises they do not keep, irrespective of the work they do not do nearly all of the people we have sent to be our representatives in Congress will keep their jobs for as long as they choose to commute to Washington, D.C. This is not because we are unaware of what they are failing to do. It is rather that the political system that has evolved over the past 250 years gives us few alternatives to the Marjorie-Taylor Greenes, Lauren Boeberts, Herschel Walkers, and Lindsey Grahams. If a congressional district appears to be fed up with the promises not kept, the keepers of the status quo need only redraw the district lines to exclude the malcontents and dilute their impact by assigning them to a district in which they will surely be the minority.
According to the Persians, Mithra was the god of reputable dealings. He saw all that men did and took note of when they failed to meet their commitments. He was the god of fair play and honest dealings. His birthday is approaching, and America could surely use a helping hand from this dispenser of integrity.
Dr. Lechtenberg is an Easton resident who graduated from Tufts University and Tufts Medical School in Massachusetts and subsequently trained at The Mount Sinai Hospital and Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in Manhattan. He worked as a neurologist at several New York Hospitals, including Kings County and The Long Island College Hospital, while maintaining a private practice, teaching at SUNY Downstate Medical School, and publishing 15 books on a variety of medical topics. He worked in drug development in the USA, as well as in England, Germany, and France.