Thursday, December 27, 2012

Carel Struycken

Leaning Towards the Paleolithic

[Nyerges is the author of “Self-Sufficient Home,” in which Mr. Struycken is featured in one chapter. “Self-Sufficient Home” is available wherever books are sold, and at]

            Carel Struycken has long been interested in the principles in Permaculture not only as it relates to growing fruits and vegetables but also in the perspective he takes on most human activities.
            Struycken, who lives in Southern California, is an actor who played Lurch in the Addam’s Family, as well as roles in Star Trek, Men in Black, Witches of Eastwick, and others.  He was born in Holland, and grew up in Curacao in the Caribbean, and moved back to Holland at age 15.  We met at his home to discuss home food production and permaculture.
            He shows me the Bible of Permaculture, Bill Mollison’s “Permaculture: A Designers Manual” which details a way in which we can grow food and live with the land in accord with nature’s principles.  (“Permaculture” is a coined term meaning “permanent agriculture.”) 
            “The whole idea of permaculture is to put in as little work as possible, and allow nature to find its balance,” says Strucken, who produced all the vegetables for a family of 5 for many years using these principles.
            “I’m also a big fan of Fukuoka, author of ‘The One Straw Revolution.’  If I had the time, I’d love to go to Japan and work on his natural farm, and work there and learn about his methods,” says Struycken.
            Both Mollison and Fukuoka are advocates of natural farming, which means planting what is appropriate for the area, tilling as little as possible, letting all the leaves and old plants serve as fertilizer for the new plants, and using natural methods for bug control. 
            Using permaculture methods, Struycken grew lots of Asian greens, mostly those members of the mustard family that had the highest nutritional value.  He grew herbs, tomatoes, yard-long beans, and 14 fruit trees.
            His yard is terraced with cement rubble, pieces of old cement walkways that have been neatly stacked to form impressive and long-lasting walls using a material that is normally discarded. He also experimented with raised beds because the soil in his garden area was so bad. 
The smaller the plot, the harder it is to practice permaculture methods. Still, Struycken never raked up and discarded leaves.  Under his avocado tree, he allowed the leaves to accumulate into a thick layer of mulch.  “The layer of avocado leaves is well over a foot thick, and when you look into the bottom of the pile, it is all naturally producing rich soil,” he explains. 
            All the kitchen scraps are recycled in many compost heaps, and he worked at cultivating the earthworms that naturally occurred in his yard so that they would do the tilling that farmers ordinarily do.
“I didn’t go out and purchase those redworms that many gardeners use, but rather I worked at cultivating the natural earthworms and keeping them happy.  Sometimes, I would use this device with long tines that I would step on and it aerates the soil without actually tilling,” he explains.
            He purchased ladybugs years ago since they eat the “bad” insects, and he found that the ladybugs like the fennel plants. So the secret to keeping ladybugs around is to grow fennel, explained Struycken.
            Permaculture does not involve raking away leaves or garden scraps, but using them for the next generation of fertilizer.  Although Struycken has tried to produce all of his needed fertilizer from his own back yard, he has found the need to occasionally bring in chicken and horse manure for his crops.  “I stopped using the horse manure, though,” he says, “since I found that it produced too many weeds.”
            “I was always amazed that I never had to do anything to my lettuce, and it was always perfect. The ecosystem took care of itself,” explained Struycken.  He said that though there were many spiders and bugs in the garden, whatever bugs that ate his lettuce got eaten by some other bug.  This is one of the basic principles of permaculture – that nature, largely left alone, will find its own balance.  In this case, rather than use insecticides (which would kill all the bugs), mulching and providing a home for all life forms means that the desirable bugs will deal with the undesirable bugs, and Struycken will still have food.
            Struycken advises beginning gardeners to start small, and to select plants that are appropriate to their environment.   He explains that there are sustainable agricultural communities throughout the world which can be emulated.  For example, he gives the example of the traditional Hopi garden where the “three sisters” are planted.  Blue corn is first planted, and then squash planted. The squash shades the ground so less water is evaporated. Then after the corn is a foot or two tall, desert beans are planted at the base of the corn. The corn serves as a pole for the beans, and the beans add nitrogen to the soil via their roots. 
            Struycken, who has been in the movie business for about 30 years, wants to do a series of documentaries where he shows sustainable communities throughout the world so that the principles can be preserved for others to learn from.
            “The Amish are the most successful sustainable farmers and they are using early 18th Century technologies,” he says with a  smile.
            Struycken pauses to explain the difference between paleolithic and neolithic in order to make a point. 
            “Humanoids have been around for at least a million years,” he explains, “and modern humans have been here maybe 500,000 years.  The paleolithics were the hunter/gatherers, and the neolithics were those who were settled in one place and who began agriculture,” says Struycken. 
            “When we settled, we had to make the effort to force ourselves into the new mindset, but our true nature is paleolithic,” Struycken explains.  He then shares a few comparisons to make his point.
The paleolithics lived in the here and now, they were more primitive by our standards, but they controlled their populations, had fewer taboos and laws, had less possessions, and managed to live on what the forest provided.  He cites the Bushmen of the Kalahari as an example.
“Now, when you had agricultural and cow-raising people who lived adjacent to the primitive people, the Bushmen would rarely die of hunger, though the agricultural people would die of hunger. This is because the agricultural people learned to rely on, and expect, much more. When cattle died, due to drought, for example, the agricultural people suffered far more than the Bushmen.  The farmers also had to work a lot harder, usually 7 days a week, whereas hunter/gatherers worked maybe 3 days a week.”
Struycken cites the Bushmen and many others to illustrate that one of our “problems” is that we are so advanced that we have lost our primal paleolithic nature. Today, systems for gardening, farming, commerce, building, etc., are all essentially neolithic and therefore unsustainable into the future, according to Struycken.
In this sense, Struycken believes that the details of our very survival can be gleaned by looking to the past at the details of  sustainable societies.  
Struycken mentions a great essay that he read, “Agriculture is the Engine of Destruction” by John Zurzon, as an example of what’s wrong with the path our society is taking.  Struycken is optimistic, idealistic, and believes that the solution to our problems is to properly understand the living principles of  (so-called) primitive peoples.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Searching for the Real Meaning of Christmas

In 1976, I was asked to conduct a Christmas event for the non-profit I’d been a part of.  My job: “Find the real meaning of Christmas.”  Even after I agreed to do this, I wondered to myself later:  How can I do that?  How can I be sure that I’ve really got it?  How will I know whether or not I’m right?  

I was told by Ms. Hall, the then-president of the non-profit, to make a plan, and that I should write out the overall reasons and purposes for the event. I should list all the tools or supplies needed.  Then, I needed to schedule some time for the research.  I was to start collecting all the facts I’d need for my study into the meaning of Christmas. Sounded good, so far.

I needed to discover what all the symbols of Christmas meant, symbolically, to each of us.

“So you need to focus your thinking on all the important details that pertain to Christmas.  Once your thinking ‘opens up,’ you need to write it all down. Your job is to find, and then to convey, that real meaning to the others at the event,” I was told.

I felt even more overwhelmed.  I was not sure I could actually do this and get meaningful results.
So, I did the best that I was able to, in 1976.  I played a “mental movie” of the event, so I could picture the people, the sequence of events, helpers, food, music, the whole enchilada.  But most importantly, I kept trying to discover the “real meaning” of this day.

Finally, the Christmas Eve event took place.  It was half the day of music, movies, and delicious food.  Once it was underway, everyone seemed to fill their role rather professionally.  And there was my presentation on the meaning of Christmas.  I had toiled over my research notes, and done considerable “thinking-into” the subject.  Still, even as I stood there in front of 20 or so people, I had my doubts about whether or not I knew what I was talking about.

I explained how I grew up in a Catholic family, and was taught that Jesus was born on December 25, which is obviously why we celebrate his birthday on that date. But by age 14, I began reading literature from non-Catholic, and non-Christian sources, that pointed out that most of the Christian Holy Days – including Christmas – were pre-Christian, as hard as that was to believe.  These first revelations had the effect of making me even more depressed at Christmastime, since not only did I perceive it as time when the merchants induced us all to buy, it now appeared that Christmas had so-called “pagan” roots. 

I had a few encyclopedias with me, and read passages from them as appropriate.  I also had The Golden Bough, and Manly Hall’s Secret Teachings of All Ages.  I told the small group that was gathered there that day that I was amazed to discover that Jesus was not the only god or savior of world history who birth was commemorated on December 25, or a few days earlier on the solstice.   Mithra, for example, was born of a virgin mother in a cave. His birthday was commemorated on December 25.  Mithraism was the dominant religion of the Roman Empire during the time of Jesus.  Nimrod from Babylon was also said to be born on December 25, as was Osiris, Quetzalcoatl, and others.  A few members of our gathering were scratching their chins, wondering where this was leading.

“I was very influenced in my early teens by the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the writings from the Worldwide Church of God, who taught that we should not observe Christmas because it is pagan,” I stated.  I explained that it was not until the 4th Century when Constantine was attempting to unite his empire that he made Christianity the official religion, and he Christianized all the so-called pagan commemorations.  As a result, the birth of the Sun that was already commemorated by the Mithra-pagans was now going to commemorate the Birth of the Son. 

It turned out that nearly all of the Christmas symbols pre-dated Christianity, and were called pagan by some. 

“But what is a pagan?” I asked the group.  “It turned out that the pagani originally referred to anyone who lived in the country.  Only later did the term take on the meaning of a non-Christian, since it was harder to convert the people who did not live close to the cities of the day.”

During the next 45 minutes, I discussed the meanings of the wreath, evergreens, lights and candles, the giving of gifts, the virgin birth, and birth in a stable.  It turned out that Mary wasn’t the only mother of a god or savior who was said to have had a virgin birth.

“It’s correct that many people have been turned off when they learn of this hidden history of Christmas.  And it’s also correct that many religious and non-religious people use this time to take a break, to get drunk, and to engage in very unbecoming behavior.  I do not believe that one should eliminate the Christmas holiday.  What we need to do is find the practical meanings of these symbols and take the time to find a way to live a better life.  After all, what is the essential point of this time of year that has caused people for four or five millenia to commemorate it?”

Timothy,  who was a guest that night, described the importance of the winter solstice to ancient people.  “That’s why there are so many stone structures and shadows and drawings that tell people when it’s the day of least light.  Not only did the farmers want to know when the days would get longer, but it was also highly symbolic.  There in the deep of winter, when the days were darkest, suddenly the days started to get longer. That’s where the birth of the sun idea came from.  It’s highly symbolic, as you’ve been saying, and just about everyone throughout time has taken note of it.”

You could hear a pin drop when Tim spoke.  He had a deep voice and a very thoughtful tone.  

Tim had actually brought along two books on the astronomical significance of ancient sites both in Europe and the Americas.  He passed each around for the participants to examine. 

When it was over, I felt that I – and the guests – had come just a bit closer to finding this real, inner meaning to this special day.  But I knew this was not a matter of just collecting facts, like some college research project. 

Can I even say that today I know the “real meaning”?  I have come closer to experiencing the “magic” of Christmas in my personal life, year by year, and for that I am thankful. 

[Note: I eventually produced a booklet on the meanings of the Christmas symbols which I have used as the basis for lectures.  The booklet, called "Whose Child Is This?" is available at the Store at]

Friday, December 14, 2012

How TV Distorts Reality. Example: Mayan calendar.

[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” and other books, available at bookstores, or  He can also be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041]

This week, I got a call from a popular TV “news magazine” show.  I was told that they were planning to air a program the following day about the December 21, 2012 end date of the Mayan calendar cycle.  They were aware that I teach survival skills and they saw my name associated with the Mayan date.

“We’d like to talk to you about the Mayan prophecies,” I was informed.

“Which Mayan prophecies are you referring to?” I asked.

“You know, the end of the world prophecies,” she casually responded.

“I’d be happy to talk to your viewers about the Mayan calendar,” I said, “and I’d let them know that there are no Mayan prophecies of doom-and-gloom that anyone knowledgeable is aware of.”  I explained that I studied in Mexico and Guatemala with Mayans.  “Are you aware of specific prophecies?” I asked.

"No, just in general that the world is going to end.

I explained that all the Mayan end-of-the-world hype was media fabrication.  What would be happening on December 21, according to most scholars, is that a large cycle of the Mayan calendar – 13 Baktuns lasting 5,125 years – will end, and another cycle will begin the next day. I told her that I’d be happy to ease her viewers’ fears, and explain that zealous media pundits somehow confused “end of a calendar cycle” with “end of the world.”

The TV show representative explained that she’d seen me on the National Geographic’s “Doomsday Preppers” show, and said she’d really like to see me with my survival gear.  (I was offered no compensation for the time I expected to give.) I explained that I was driving to work (yes, I do work!) and that I only had the minimal gear that I always carry, but not my full wilderness pack.    

“I’d still be happy to share with your viewers how knowing survival skills is a good thing all the time,” I continued, “considering all the very real problems that we all have to contend with, such as earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, economic disasters, terrorists, diseases, and so on.”

“Actually, we’re really looking for someone who is seriously preparing for the December 21st date.  We really want something more dramatic and sensational,” I was told.

It was becoming clear that I would not be on their show.

“Well, if you’re looking for a nut who’s frightened about the Mayan calendar and who is taking radical action based on panic and fear, then I’m not your man,” I told her.  “Still, I’d be happy to talk to you to give your show some balance.”  I continued, telling her that there is no special planetary alignment associated with December 21, no comet that we know of that’s about to hit the earth, no mysterious planet about to show up, and no heightened sun spot activity.  I again explained that we never really know what might happen, but we shouldn’t listen to the fear stories about things that have no relation to the Mayan calendar.  She politely listened.

“I tell people that whenever you act out of fear or panic that you nearly always make bad choices,” I added.

“Yes, well, we really want something more dramatic.  We want to show people who are very concerned about this December 21 date and who are doing something about it.”  She told me she would talk to her producers and might call me back for a taping later in the day for a show that was already planned for the following day. 

To no surprise, I never got a return call.

This taught me a lesson I’d experienced many times.  The modern media are all too often so focused on ratings and sensationalism that they will twist and distort (or ignore) the facts if this helps maintain viewers.  Though many of us might view the “quest for truth” to be a high ideal, not everyone does.  In this case, it was clear that the producers of this TV program were not concerned about whether or not there were in fact any Mayan “prophecies” at all. 

It is not just distortion and lies that we should protect ourselves against.  We also need to be equally concerned about that the reporters and journalists do not tell us. 

Sadly, TV, despite its vast potential, has increasingly become a wasteland.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

"Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays"?

"Merry Christmas!” said my Jewish friend when he greeted me with a smile. “Merry Christmas,” I replied.  I asked him if it ever bothered him that nearly everyone greets with “Merry Christmas” during December.   “Not at all,” he told me.  “I mean,  I recognize that 90% of Americans are Christians.”

“What do you think about people saying ‘Happy Holidays,’” I asked.

My friend laughed. “When people say that, I ask them, ‘What holiday are you referring to?’ Most say nothing, but some say, well, it’s New Years too.”

It was refreshing that my Jewish friend was OK with the “Merry Christmas” greeting.  In fact, he liked it.  “I don’t expect the vast majority to conform to me,” he explained.

Fair enough.  Then why are we so afraid in our political correctness to say “Merry Christmas”?  Are we really worried that it might offend someone?  Yes, there are other holidays: the secular Kwanzaa invented by a Long Beach State College teacher for African Americans, New Years (though most Chinese celebrate not January 1 but the Chinese New Years which usually falls in early Februrary), pagans who simply celebrate the solstice, and the month of Ramadan which sometimes falls near December, but not often as it moves forward through the calendar.  

 On the radio, a Christian man told the radio host that the didn’t celebrate Christmas, that it was a lie. The host was shocked.  What is the lie, the host asked.  The man said that he didn’t like the tale of Santa Claus, and that Jesus wasn’t born on the winter solstice.  The host, in so many words, called the man an idiot. 

But the conversation brought back memories of my researching the roots of Christmas back in my teens, when I discovered that Christmas is essentially a pre-Christian holiday.  Initially, I found myself disenchanted with that social norm of Christmas celebrations.  If this isn’t really about the birth of Jesus, I wondered, why should I participate in this pagan practice.  But over the years, I have had a different point of view about how to regard this odd Christmas holiday which is really a mish-mash customs from all over the world from various times. 

First, a bit of history.  Yes, it is true that the so-called “pagans” observed the solstices and equinoxes as their high holy days. In fact, nearly all religions in the past did so.  “Pagan” originally referred to the country people who lived outside of Rome-proper, but gradually became a derogatory term for non-Christians.

We do not know when Jesus was born. The scriptures provide clues but no exact dates and no indication that this followers ever made a big deal about the birthday.  And who was Jesus?  He was a Jewish rabbi, probably an Essene, who observed the Jewish holy days.  His followers changed their holy day to Sunday, in part to attract the “sun worshippers,” and also to separate themselves from the Jewish Saturday Sabbath.   

Remember, early Christians were killed and tossed to the lions.  But by the 4th Century, Constantine had a vision and declared Christianity the official religion of the kingdom.  He Christianized all the “pagan” holy days, which is how The birth of the Sun was turned into the Birth of the Son.  In fact, the observation of the winter solstice has been regarded with great reverence for as long as we can tell.  During this winter’s deep, the sun was in its lowest part of the sky as it rose each day.  Four days after the solstice, the rising sun appears to rise further north on the horizon – the sun has risen!  This astronomical event has long had great metaphysical and personal value to the millions of people who have observed and celebrated it for millenia.  

Though you may have many opinions about whether or not it was fair and square for the church to have stolen and renamed the pagan holy days, that does not make it inherently wrong.  In  fact, there is no inherent wrongness to it at al.  As with most things in life, its value is wholly up to us, to use the timing for spiritual upliftment and evolution.

The Year of "No Christmas"

When I was perhaps 10, my brothers and I were particularly bad and misbehaving and belligerent one autumn.  My mother gave us several warning and threats and a few “beatings” in her ceaseless attempt to get us to obey.  But I don’t know what was wrong with us that year.  It was as if we were afflicted by some unseen infection.  Or maybe it was what all teens go through when they believe they know more than their parents.  So my mother said, “Keep it up and there will be no Christmas this year.”  Of course, my mother didn’t control the calendar.  She just meant “no gifts.”  That threat did at first affect our behavior,  but then we’d go back to our nonfeasant and malfeasant ways.  There were numerous threats, as November rolled into December, but things didn’t substantially improve.

Now, I was at the age where I began to think about things, and the relative unfairness in the world, and the questioning of authority. But I also wondered why we should  receive gifts at Christmas.  By this time, I was aware that Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus at this time, and that it was primarily a religious holiday.  I just didn’t get the whole gift thing –not that I minded receiving.  But because I lacked an understanding of the whole picture, the idea of “no gifts”  didn’t seem that threatening to me.

Thinking back, our bad behaviour that year was likely the trickle-down defiance from our oldest brother.  David was never a defier, certainly not an open defier, but the defiance of Gilbert the eldest would have trickled down to Thomas, to Richard, to me.  We were not an ideal family, and I am sure I have suffered my entire life due to unnecessary defiance and the disrespect that I showed to my parents.  Did my parents deserve respect?  In retrospect, of course they did, though the question would have been irrelevant then – like the pot calling the kettle black.  

We were not saints, so who were we to point out hypocrisy in our parents?  Anyway, by mid-December, the word was out: No Christmas this year.  We were schizophrenic about this.  “Oh, we don’t care,” we sassed, but inwardly I believe we each felt a deep dismay at our own inability to live up to our household’s very simple standards.  I felt particularly dismayed that I had been no better, and that I was swayed along with the tide of my older brothers’ mob mentality.  No Christmas.  “She won’t follow through on it,” Tom told us with assurance.  But inwardly, I felt my mother had  to follow through, otherwise her word would mean little to us, and she’d gain little by “being nice.”  I don’t recall what my father had to say about this, but it wasn’t much.

So, sure enough, Christmas came, and we went glumly into the living room to a fire and the usual Christmas tree, but there were no gifts.  We went to church and we talked with our schoolmates. When they talked about what they got for Christmas, we just found ways to change the subject.  We had a quiet Christmas dinner.

One of my brothers told his friends that my mother was mean, but I never did that.  I knew we deserved nothing, and I felt a certain euphoric sense of justice in her actions, and I respected her more because of it. 

Interestingly, in certain ways, I felt closer to my mother after that, was more obedient because I simply felt better doing what was expected of me, and I never complained.  Despite a seeming lack, it was actually one of the best Christmas’ ever, where I received the most fitting possible “gift” – the ability to quickly experience that my choices and actions have consequences.

The story about my mean mother gradually got out into the neighborhood, and my mother once again became the topic of conversations, mostly criticizing my mother.  I always remained silent, trying to listen to both sides. But I only heard one side—no gifts – from those who truly lost the meaning of Christmas, whose sole focus for Christmas seemed to be the acquisition of things.  So I slowly was given a second “gift” by my mother’s action – a unique insight into the all-too-common mundanity of most people’s very narrow thinking.

On Gifting

Why give gifts we can't afford to people we don't like?

Another view of Holiday Gifting

“Have you done your shopping yet?,” an acquaintance asked.  I gasped, feeling the despair that descends upon me when I witness the scurry run-around that so many folks engage in during the Christmas season.  Giving is good, yes. Receiving  is good too.  
 Like the ancient native potlatch where tribal members tried to outdo each other in their givingness.  But have we moved too far from meaningful  giving?  Have we accepted the propaganda that the “Christmas shopping splurge” should somehow “save” the retail industry?  Have we lost our resistance?  Have we given in the fiction that it is socially necessary to buy lots of stuff (that we’d not buy otherwise) for people who we don’t particularly like, when we really can’t afford to do so?

The way to end the insanity is simply to end it.  End the pointless buying.

What are we celebrating, after all?  Santa Claus-who-brings-us-toys day?  The Winter Solstice?  The birth of the Sun?  The birth of the Son, Jesus?

Most American Christians say it is the latter.  So then why the gift splurge?  Some say this is because the three Magi brought gifts to the promised One.  The Magi gave symbolic gifts, nothing that was in any way useful to an infant.  They did not exchange gifts among themselves. 

Nor was this Jesus born on December 25.  Recall, if you will, that animals and shepherds were in the fields, and it was the time of a census that required much travelling.  It was definitely not in the dead of winter, as all historians agree.

Let’s get out our encyclopedias and learn  that the “birth of the Sun” celebrations were pre-Christian.  These so-called “pagan” traditions were part of the holy days of Mithraism and other pre-Christian religions.  Exchanging gifts was part of that tradition.

In the early days of the new cult of Christianity that arose from Judaism, there was the desire to “hide” the new Christian commemoration of the birth of Jesus when others were also celebrating the birth of the Sun.  Some credit the Roman Emperor Aurelian with this clever idea.  Eventually, when Christianity was the official religion of the empire in the 4th century, no such hiding was necessary as nearly all the pagan holidays became Christianized.

Still, our pointless profligate buying and giving is a relatively modern invention of the advertising industry.  Gone are the days of making something to give to another – a cake, cookies, a wooden bowl, a pipe, a toy, a hand-written card.  Gone are the days of personally handing a thoughtfully-made or acquired object to a person, as both parties exchange the gift of their time, and Selves, to one another, as they examine the physical object.  Or is such a day gone?

It is only by our choice to be a lemming that we continue the mindless buy and gift command from our marketing masters.

I’m not particularly concerned that most of the modern Christmas symbols can be traced back to the pre-Christian days – the wreath, the tree, the yule log, December 25, the birth of a saviour at the time of least light, the cards, and yes, gifting.  What matters most is the level of thinking and thoughtfulness that we inject into our observation of what should be a High Holy Day.  “Buying stuff” is anathema to this day.  We don’t have to choose to be a part of the cattle drive at the local mall.  Rather, choose something else.

Plan to be with close friends.  Plan thoughtful songs to sing.  Plan special movies to watch – I never get tired of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  Plan thoughtful readings about the meaning of the day.  And if you choose to give gifts, avoid the animalistic urge to wildly rip through the packagings of gift after gift.  Make each one special.  Tell the person why they were given the gift. Let them open it and examine it. Discuss how the gift will enhance their life.

I remember a scene in the book “Less Than Zero.”  It’s Christmas time and the author is at home when his father visits. The father is divorced from his mother, so he visits on holidays.  As he sits there on Christmas, he pulls out his checkbook and writes a check to his son.  The author – the son – lamented that his father didn’t take the time to at least write the check ahead of time, put it in an envelope, and include a note.  It was just done rather casual.  It was a classic “less than zero” moment.

In this time of least light, when the sun is about to start on the path to more light and longer days, when so many of us are scrambling at the malls for “good buys,” we can choose to eschew “less than zero,” and choose instead the Light.