Call me old fashioned. Why wait a full two weeks until the arbitrary timeline imposed by the institution of Pope Gregory XIII’s fancy new revised calendar in 1582?
Let’s follow ancient tradition and rely upon our old, dependable cosmic sky clock - greeting 2016 here in Oakhurst as the winter solstice arrives at 8:49 p.m., next Monday, Dec. 21.
Since time immemorial, this is when the earth’s axis starts slightly tilting with every next rotation, bringing increased sunlight into our lives. This is when each New Year is truly born. That’s why I’ve always considered Newgrange not a tomb, but a womb - celebrating fresh renewal of life.
Superstitious rural residents of Ireland’s Boyne Valley considered Newgrange a dangerous “Faerie Mound” for many centuries - terrified to go near. It had been sealed and covered by earth for several millennia and existed only as a whispered rumor in Irish folklore and mythology.
It wasn’t until contemporary times that archaeologist Michael O’ Kelly led extensive excavation and restoration, uncovering a large circular monument hiding a stone passageway leading down to three interior chambers.
These become fully lit by a single beam of brilliant sunlight penetrating through a slender, perfectly aligned shaft for less than 20 minutes duration. This happens only at the exact point of the Winter Solstice and has done so for the last six thousand years.
Newgrange is older than both Stonehenge of England and the Pyramids of Egypt by hundreds of generations. No one knows who constructed Newgrange or why, but it clearly suggests a celestial celebration of extraordinary cultural importance older than human memory, yet younger than Ireland herself.
Did you know the whole Emerald Isle was buried under a mile of ice only an epoch ago? It wasn’t until the end of the last glacial period around 8,000 BC that the island became sparsely populated by small contingents of Mesolithic people arriving from Europe by boat - Syrians of yesteryear.
An important mentor in my life was Uncle Vince.
Vincent was my father’s older brother and had studied for the priesthood. With my father’s death when I was 6, he had become my mentor. He didn’t have much money either. Vincent had been noticed as a very young man by the nuns and had been educated in the finest schools at Church expense.
While in Rome completing his education, Vincent enlisted in the U.S. Army, fighting in World War One and being gassed in the trenches of France. After the war ended, he spent many years teaching Greek, Latin and Theology at Mount Saint Mary near Baltimore -- a major Catholic seminary.
Returning to Syracuse upon retirement, he moved in above us and would bring me to the library all the time to choose “important books.” I would sneak out of my room in the middle of the night and study the stars with him through an old, dusty telescope on his porch. His namesake, our grandson Vincent, has that telescope today.
As I would ask him of life, Uncle Vince would answer all of my questions with questions. I later came to know he practiced the Socratic method of instruction. He loved Socrates and would sign that name to many articles submitted to our local newspapers.
When I was to receive my Bachelor of Science Degree in Social Sciences from Le Moyne College in 1963, Uncle Vince made it a point arriving early to be certain of proper seating. He proudly waved at me from the front of the stands clutching a small Irish flag. I briefly saw him after the ceremony and we made plans to see each other the following weekend. I had parties to attend. He went home and died alone within hours.
He left me everything he had. His estate primarily consisted of more than 3,000 books covering every subject known to man. The volumes filled every room in his tiny apartment from ceiling to floor. Keeping the important ones, the rest went to the Jesuits at Le Moyne.
It was Uncle Vince who called the star-filled, dark heavens of night our “sky clock” and thus he sprang to mind as I wrote this column.
So, from Doctor Vincent Cavanaugh - Happy New Year.
As I remain still around - with questions yet unanswered.