Entries Tagged as 'Christmas'

Waiting for a snowstorm

The Winter Solstice and A Crystal Radio

Winter Solstice is approaching. Earth has been tilting away from the Sun since June, and in just a few days Sol will be as far below the equatorial plane, or as low in the sky, as he’s going to get.

For those of us parked in the Northern Hemisphere, Winter Solstice marks our shortest day and longest night. It brings a full 24 hours of darkness to the North Pole. You can’t get any further away from the sun’s warmth and light without stepping off the planet.

Nightfall. The longest dark experienced by the living. It occurs every year between December 20 and December 23, and guess whose birthday falls on the 22nd.

Our ancestors dreaded this dark time and did their best to fill it with their own light and warmth.

In the 1960s and ’70s, things like solstices, Saturnalia, and the Wild Host didn’t really have any impact on me. Thanks mainly to a few hundred years of Christian tradition, I suppose. And electricity.

So, when baby Spookyblue appeared on the Winter Solstice of 1966, he never gave a thought to rough-housing Norse spirits or the terrible Yule Cat. Instead, a long string of birthdays, 41 so far, have always been flavored with cinnamon, scented with pine.

Happily, my parents did a good job of separating birthdays and Christmases so that one never diminished the notability of the other. I only ever remember one time when a relative tried to pull that “here is your birthday and Christmas present” crap. And even though I had always wished I’d been born in October, getting presents a few days before Christmas is a great relief valve for a hyper 10 year old.

We got to eat 9lb lasagna off the good plates in the dining room with Sprite to drink in some very golden, very ’70s special occasion glasses. There were always candles, a big cake, and presents, and fun, and happy happy happy happy– “Boom!” (excited kid explodes in a spinning cloud of confetti and joy)

Crystal AM Radio Kit - $3.95Christmas at our house was huge, but some of the most memorable gifts that I can remember actually came to me on my birthday. And this is something I never really considered before. Mom and dad took great care every December 22nd to celebrate me in the midst of celebrating Him.

Standing in the middle of all that celebrating is a tall stack of boxes, each representing a year, an era, a Christmas or birthday. These are the Best Presents I Ever Got, and they each hold a memory.

I built that R2D2 model at the kitchen table and ate Pop Rocks for the first time. I played with that Lego truck in the middle of Elm Street when it was a sheet of ice for a week during the Blizzard of ’77. Pictures from “The Year of The Pinball Machine” show me with a black eye I got wrestling with my little brother.

Science Fair Crystal Radio KitSomewhere in the middle of the stack sits a box that reads “Science Fair Crystal Radio Kit”. It’s right next to the big “Girder and Panel Construction Set”. Funny how most of what’s in this stack is either a “set” or a “kit”.

This was simply the neatest thing I had ever seen: A radio that didn’t need batteries! The propeller on top of my blossoming nerd-ness spun faster than it ever had before that night as Crystal Radio KitI carefully assembled my crystal radio on the kitchen table, ignoring everything else.

That included the gallon of peppermint ice cream that mom didn’t think I knew was in the freezer. To this day I have to cinch up my gorge at the mere thought of peppermint ice cream, and if memory serves, that much younger Spookyblue was only hours away from learning of the terrible, regurgitative price for the sin of gluttony.

There weren’t very many pieces to this project. Just a few discrete components that slipped into little springs that held everything together, and then it was complete. I inserted the earplug and slowly turned the little dial. Silence for several seconds. Then a sudden crackle of radio static popped in my ear and I heard a voice. A voice! In Spanish!

Crystal Radio Close-upNo matter. I was utterly thrilled to hear that high, tin-can alien voice. Who cared that I didn’t understand a word?

Some further fiddling with the dial rewarded me with another station, and this one played music. Not only that, but it was Christmas music! What a prize!

Two nights later it was Christmas Eve and I lay in bed, wide awake, with a very attenuated “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” playing in my ear. Again. You see, of the two stations that I could receive on my crystal set (I never could dial in anything else), the one playing Christmas music must have been automated because it looped the same songs all night. The same five songs. I think I finally passed out at around 2:00.

O tidings of comfort and joy…

One more note… Although the Winter Solstice event itself happens in an instant, it’s very gradual to us. We won’t notice any change in the sun’s position for about three days, meaning that the first noticeable lengthening of the day will occur on December 25. This “Dies Natalis Solis Invicti”, or “Birthday of The Unconquered Sun”, was a Roman celebration until we eventually replaced “Sun” with “Son”, and along came Christmas.

Special thanks to Blazerman for letting us swipe some of his pictures. Tons of interesting stuff here.

Thanks also to Sam at SamsToybox.com. If you dig retro toys, especially the old Aurora monster models, then you owe yourself a romp through Sam’s very cool collection.