Saying Farewell with an Old Myth for the Holidays

As children everywhere look forward to a certain someone coming down their chimney this week, a look at the roots of this tale
Dec 23, 2009

As the winter solstice goes by, happily for all, but especially so for those of us tied to the land, the days once more begin to lengthen in the northern hemisphere. The 2009 vintage harvest is over and by the solar cycle and calendar we pass into the next growing season.

This is a deeply spiritual time, with many mysteries and mythologies in our psyches that originate from a time when all humans were more closely bound to the land, and when the gods we worshipped were those of agriculture.

Over millennia of early human culture, the development of primitive astronomical calendars gave better understanding to the timing of the seasons and better insight for when to plant and harvest crops. Observations of the solstices and equinoxes were once the reference points for all human life and activity.

If I may in my final blog, rather than from the vineyard and harvest (because 'tis the season), I would like to share forgotten lore from a time when agriculture and the culture of the vine and wine were first developing. At risk of furthering the suspicion that Cargasacchi is "out there," I will share the roots of a mythological memory regarding the winter solstice and our agricultural prehistory, but whose origins have been forgotten.

In western folklore there exist myths of ancestral spirits that come through the chimney to reward good children by bringing gifts to them, but that instead, for bad children, bring charcoal or ashes. The noteworthy common theme of these myths is that "the spirits" travel through the chimney.

We are all familiar with Santa Claus, who comes through the chimney on Christmas Eve. In Italy, another myth is that of the Befana. An old woman, the Befana fed the Three Wise Men/Three Kings as they traveled to Bethlehem. They invited her to join them on their journey but she refused, only to change her mind afterward and attempt to follow them. Unable to find them, she changed her plan and now at Christmas time flies on her broom bringing gifts to good children and charcoal to the bad.

Although we consider these to be very old myths, these and other myths have much, much older roots than it first appears. Unknown to most, these myths and many others deeply embedded in our culture derive from the first agricultural civilizations, (and less relevantly, where winemaking was also first developed).

In the first agricultural towns (having been unearthed in Mesopotamia), the houses were made of mud brick and did not have doors or windows. People entered through a hole in the roof that was both the door and chimney. The chimney was the door that everyone entered and exited the home.

Today, memories and myths from these ancient agricultural communities are still with us. The ancestral spirits represented by Santa Claus and La Befana still visit us by coming through the chimney, because that was the door when those mythologies first developed long ago.

It is my privilege to be one of the few who still work the land, producing food and wine. I have enjoyed writing these blogs and sharing part of my world with the readers of WineSpectator.com very much. I would like to thank Wine Spectator for allowing me to write about the 2009 harvest and for their patience. Thank you also to those whom have followed the harvest blogs and helped motivate me. May the next year treat you all well!

Harvest United States California Santa Barbara County 2009

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