The season of Christmas is upon us. But what does it mean to us? The philosophical question of meaning is central to the quest for self-knowledge. So how can this season help us in the quest for wisdom? As a man of faith, the season obviously speaks to me, but there is a need for the season even from a purely philosophical angle. To widen out our conversation a bit, the season of Christmas as most people understand it is really the liturgical seasons of Advent and Christmas. Advent is from the Latin “adventus”, meaning “the coming”. Christians await the coming of the messiah in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. But the season, as is widely recognized, has held symbolic significance apart from Christian traditions. The world awaits the light of Spring. And so we recall our longing for the light as we move into the shortest days of the year.
Light is a physical need. Our bodies really need the Sun. But our minds crave the light as well. And it is in this sense that I think that the season of Advent has philosophical significance. If there is anything I have learned from my recent reflections on phenomenology… a topic for later, deeper discussion… it is that symbols are living entities. The human mind does not just take in language like so much dead matter on which it operates. The human mind thrives on language, it is language. The symbols and the living mind, the soul, if you will allow me some metaphysical room for maneuver, are one and the same, or at least inextricably linked. So the celebration of our need for new light is more than just so much symbolism and ancient mythology. It is a real need of the human being. Celebrate life and light.