Celebrating the turning points: solstice in the south

Sue Wootton

Portholes to the PastAt 99, Sir Lloyd Geering (thinker, theologian, mathematician) has published a new book, Portholes to the Past. In May, he appeared at the Auckland Writers’ Festival, interviewed by John Campbell. I was lucky enough to be present in the audience, and highly recommend listening to the podcast of their conversation here. Towards the end of the interview, commenting on the current state of the world,  Geering said:

I have lately sensed a widespread apprehension for the future … We’ve lost that feeling of safety in the world… [and now with terrorism] there’s a feeling of insecurity that was not there at the beginning of the 20th century.”

In Geering’s view this wobble stems from losing, in the transition to a post-Christian secular worldview, a vital framework for supporting meaning in our lives. Geering suggests that one way we can begin to heal this loss is through establishing new rituals through which we can express our values and reconnect as a community. Geering said:

I think we’ve got to return to some festivals of nature. I think it would it be a good thing to celebrate the shortest day of the year, for example, as a turning point.”

But good, meaningful festivals can’t be forced on people. They emerge from almost nothing, says Geering, by catching the imagination and feeding the need for togetherness. Welcome, then, to the Dunedin Midwinter Carnival, which is just such a festival: a locally-grown celebration of Matariki and the winter solstice that has become firmly entrenched in the community’s calendar. Each year features an ever-more creative and inspiring lantern parade. This year’s theme was Nocturnal Nature. Thousands gathered last Saturday evening in the heart of the city to mark the passing of the longest night of the year by witnessing this joyous procession of light in the darkness.


Sue Wootton lives in Dunedin, New Zealand. She is co-editor of Corpus.

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