Wednesday, November 29, 2023

The Importance and Magic of December Light



Acoustic guitarist-singer Johnny Never and harmonica player John Colgan-Davis won the Central Delaware Blues Challenge for a spot at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis TN in January 2024. There will be two fundraisers to help send Johnny and John to Memphis. The first one is at Jamey's House of Music, 32 S. Landsdowne Ave; Lansdowne, PA on Sunday, December 10th, from noon until 3PM. The second fundraiser, put on by the Central Delaware Blues Society, is January 7th at “Delaware Veterans Post #2” 129 Pear Street, Dover, DE from noon until 5PM. Each will feature live music provided by some of the region's best blues artists including Roger Girke, Jimmy Pritchard, Harmonica Slim, and more. Info, dates, times, raffles and details about the fundraisers is here: 


If you have seen the night sky these last few nights, you have enjoyed wonderful bright moons standing among the clouds. Those sightings were clear reminders about how important light is to us, especially as we approach winter. We have mostly gotten used to the end of Daylight Savings Time, and we are getting up later without complaint. We are adjusting to the longer hours of darkness as we head into the final month of year and are getting ready to celebrate. For we are headed into December, and despite its longer hours of darkness, December is a time of constant and joyous celebration. 

Almost no week in December is free of holy ritual and observance somewhere in the world. There is, of course, Christmas and the minor celebrations leading up to and associated with it: Advent, the 12 Days of Christmas, Yule, and others depending on your ethnicity and specific religious tradition. There is also Hanukkah, with its 8 days of oil-based food and dreidel playing. There is Kwanzaa, with its celebration of Pan-African culture and values.  And if you are Buddhist, Hopi, Hindu, West African Dogon, traditional Persian, or Wiccan, there are celebrations for you this month as well. In fact, what many of us think of as parts of traditional Christmas celebrations- the Christmas tree and the story of the 3 Wise Men- actually have their roots in the pre- Christian Wiccan and Persian traditions. It is December, winter is coming, and we are on the threshold of a very “ritual-rich” time period.  

   What so many of all these winter observances have in common is the prominence of light. Candles, bonfires, logs, electric lights, tree lights-light is the common element, metaphor and symbol seen world-wide at this time of the year.  And it makes perfect sense; this time of the year means noticeable changes in the amount of daylight and darkness surrounding us, and as humans, we have to account for that. Humans look to nature to try to figure out what is coming and what God or the gods have in store for us, and for most of our history that has meant looking to the sky.  The sun, the moon and the stars have literally and figuratively been our guideposts. And we see that manifest in most of our December observances.  

Humans have known for centuries that the length of the days was changing at this time of the year and what we call “the winter solstice” would be here again. So the days leading up to or after the solstice became a time of deep spiritual meaning for early humans.  Ritual, symbol and myth are the ways humans respond to nature, and this became celebrated in many different ways around the planet depending upon geography and culture. Many of the stories, myths and traditions from different times and places associate this time of the year with miraculous births, enlightenment, miracles, and/or new beginnings. The Druid bonfires and the Germanic and Norse Yule logs, for example, were metaphoric symbols of cleansing, sacrifice, and the simultaneous death and rebirth of the earth-from the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, to days of more and more hours of sunlight. To the ancient Persians winter was the time of the Yalda festival, and Mithras, the symbol of truth, strength, goodness and light, emerged from a rock at this time of the year. His birth was celebrated with flame and holy fires. Sol Invictus, the all-powerful Roman sun god, was also celebrated in December with torches and bonfiresIt is a timeless and universal process; we humans knew that we had to celebrate and meet this winter darkness with lightWe had to link our doings and our fates with the universe’s. We had to acknowledge this darkness, so in our rituals fire-light-abounded.                  

  New beginnings are also important in most religious traditions, and light is a strong metaphor for that as well. Our language reflects this. We speak of, “seeing the light,” or “coming into the light.” We look to the “inner light and we “let our light shine.”  Light as transformation and rebirth is readily spoken of and alluded to in many of our religious rituals and ceremonies at this time of the year. Hanukkah is about rebirth and new beginnings as it celebrates the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem from its desecration when Antiochus made it into a Greek temple. The candles symbolize, in part, the rebirth of the religion. The candles in Kwanzaa symbolize a reawakened connection and awareness of African values and traditions for people of African descent. It is the rebirth of a lost connection. To Buddhists, Bodhi Day in December celebrates the Buddha becoming a Buddha-an enlightened one who suddenly could see beyond illusion. To Christians, the Star of Bethlehem led to a new beginning for humans, as it led the Wise Men to the birthplace of Jesus. Light was symbolically leading us forward.  

   And light is as powerful today to us humans as it was when we first figured out the solstice and what it could mean. Tradition has it that Martin Luther saw stars one night as he was composing a sermon and tried to capture their beauty by adding lighted candles to the Christmas tree inside his house. Whether that is true or not, by the time the Germanic tradition of the Christmas tree reached the US the idea of lights on the trees were a fixtureWe decorated the tree, and it took off from there. Now there are lighted houses, yards, shops, malls and more. We are awash in lights; there are even whole streets and neighborhoods that collaborate to plan what their light scheme is going to be each holiday season. Many families now have a tradition of driving to visit different neighborhoods just to see the light displays. We need that light.  

So our ancient connection to the rhythms and structures of the natural world are still with us, even if we do not recognize them as such. As up to date and modern as we are in this digital age, we are still human, and that means we are still connected to our ancestors’ sense of the universe in some important and primal ways. As we celebrate our various religious rituals, traditions and personal rituals this season, I hope you can spend some time outside looking up at the night sky and taking some time to note, think about, and marvel at what is going on up there. It is quite miraculous, and it still influences so much of what we do down here. And its mystery and beauty link our present very directly to our past. That is a wonderful and beautiful thing.  

Do have a safe, warm, happy, and joyous holiday seasonI hope you find it a time full of good spirits, good company and good foodAnd of course, light.     

1)Sunday December, 10 Jamey’s House of Music; 32 S Landsdowne Ave, Landsdowne, PA noon-3PM: MEMPHIS STOMP FUNDRAISER CONCERT TO RAISE MONEY FOR OUR TRIP TO THE IBC IN MEMPHIS; with The Johns - Johnny Never and John Colgan-Davis, ROGER GIRKE, Jimmy Pritchard, Slim of Slim and the Percolators, Fred Miller Band, Garry Gogdell  

This is THREE Hours of great Blues Music, a 50/50 Raffle and raffles for one-of-a-kind T-shirts, signed geclee art prints by nationally recognized fine artists, J.R. Carleton Dorchester and more  

TICKETS: $20.00 Advance, $25.00 at the door!    

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Thanksgiving and Commerce




There have always been links between seasonal changes and commerce. Early human groups traveled across different places at different times in the year and found different things available for both consuming and trading. In the ancient world, spring meant hunting and trading for more plants and seeds, and going to where the herds of animals and schools of fish were plentiful in order to get more. Autumn meant increased hunting, trading, gathering and traveling to harvest plants and to get supplies and shelter for winter. Most hunting-gathering people already saw religious and mythological links between changes in seasons and their lives, so the special importance of different products at different times became natural. The original autumnal “thanksgivings” were literally the “giving of “Thanks” to the gods for a good harvest and/or hunt, and also a hope for surviving the winter.   

As cities and the lifestyle known as civilization developed, more extensive trading and conquering happened, and many more things became available. New products came from different parts of the world, and the having of lots of products became associated with everything from class level to social wealth to religious worth to personal worth, to political power and more.  . Civilizations keep producing and developing more products at an ever-increasing rate. And when civilizations developed into empires, the importance of having, trading, giving, and owning products exploded exponentially. Commerce became more and more of a driving force in cultures. 

Over time we have developed systems for coming up with new products to keep the commerce flowing: Research and Development, planned obsolescence, and upgrades. We have come up with more ways of putting products in front of people-signs, advertising campaigns, product placement, pop-up ads embedded in websites, celebrity endorsements, and more. The bazaars and marketplaces of the old days have been replaced by shopping malls, warehouse outlets and now online giants such as Amazon and E-Bay. And there is no end in sight. 

 After the 1924 debut of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, this post-Thanksgiving weekend quickly became the start of our “winter shopping season.” The gift-giving associated with the Christmas story became more and more the focus of Christmas, and the Friday after Thanksgiving was the time to get it started. Stores and shops ran special sales and campaigns to get people into the stores and opening up the wallets and pocketbooks. 

The term for that time is, of course, “Black Friday”, and the origin of that term has a dark side to it. In the 1950s, police in Philadelphia used the term to describe the chaos that ensued on the day after Thanksgiving. Hordes of shoppers and tourists flooded into the city to take advantage of the sales and in advance of the big Army-Navy football game that used to be held here every year on the Saturday following Thanksgiving. Suburbs were relatively new and expanding, and the new highways and freeways made it easier for suburbanites to get into the city to shop as well as go to sporting events. Philly cops had to work extra-long shifts dealing with the increasing mess of huge crowds and miles of traffic problems. Shoplifters also took advantage of the bedlam in stores to make off with merchandise, and pickpockets endlessly worked the crowds. To police, then, the Friday after Thanksgiving was not joyous at all. Instead, it was “black.” 

By 1961, “Black Friday” had become the local term for that day in Philadelphia. Retailers tried unsuccessfully to change it to “Big Friday” in order to remove the negative connotations of the term, but that term didn’t take off. “Black Friday” was what it was called, and Black Friday it remained. So retailers did the next best thing: they changed the meaning and explanation for the term. They turned it into a story about businesses on that day suddenly making a profit-going into the black. This new story of what Black Friday meant caught on, and the term’s true origin was forgotten.  Not only did the phrase catch on across the nation. And what was originally a one-day event slowly morphed into a four-day event that spawned other “retail holidays” such as Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. Cyber Monday” came into being in 2005 as an idea to encourage people to shop online and build this new thing known as online businesses. With the amount of online shopping increasing over time and really jumping due to COVID, it is estimated that Cyber Monday this year will bring in some 13 billion dollars.  

Clearly this seasonal urge to spend is quite powerful in our culture. It even applies to charities and non-profits. A 2012 survey found the some 50% of charities and non-profits reported that most of their individual contributions came in between October and December. The ideas of holiday gifting, seasonal calls for thinking of others, and tax deductions combined to drive more charitable fundraising these last two months of the year and has resulted in “Giving Tuesday.”. Giving Tuesday is a day for making donations to fund good causes following Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The founders wanted people to focus on giving after their weekend shopping spree, and to see a seamless link between spending for family and self and giving to help others. The idea quickly took off, and it is now an international movement.  It even has its own website- which serves as a conduit connecting groups, causes, organizations and individuals. The website has history, tools to get organized, and connections to local movements from around the world. Given the widespread challenges presented by the COVID pandemic, support for charitable institutions is even more critical. Giving Tuesday is one way of making that support possible. 

So the “Black Friday” phenomenon can, and in many ways, has definitely overwhelmed the intended sense of the original autumnal thanksgivings. It can be about things and about consumption above all else. But it can lead to the simple joys of family get-togethers, especially in the wake of COVID these last few years. And it can also lead to a “Giving Tuesday” if we allow ourselves to get beyond the products and onto to something more meaningful. We can find another way to extend the notion of gratitude by giving back and giving to. I hope more of us can move to that this year. If you are so moved, please go to: 

ADDRESS CORRECTION: Fundraisers for Johnny Never & John Colgan-Davis Trip to the IBC in January 

We will have two fundraisers to help send Johnny and John to Memphis for the 2024 IBC One is at Jamey's House of Music in Lansdowne on Sunday, December 10, and the other one, put on by our sponsor, the Central Delaware Blues Society, is on January 7 at Delaware Veterans Post #2 129 Pear Street in Dover, DE.  Each will feature live music provided by some of the region's best blues artists including Roger Girke, Jimmy Pritchard, Harmonica Slim, and more. Info, dates, times, raffles and details about the fundraisers is here: 


(The Dukes are starting to book 2024 gigs, so we will of course have more dates coming up., SO stay tuned. And if you know of a place, party, event, or affair that could use a bit of Dukes Magic, please let them know about us and us about them. Thanks) 

Friday, December 29; The Mermaid Inn; Germantown Ave and Mermaid Lane; $20; 8-11 PM; 215-247-9797  

Thanks to all of you folks who came out to my birthday party last Saturday. We had a ball and are happy to end the year at our home away from home once more. Great bartenders, wonderful crowd, and dancing, dancing, dancing. Come on out and get ready for the end of the year with a blues bash! 


Friday, June 28; World CafĂ© Live with Johnny Never and John Colgan-Davis Opening Act; 8:30 PM; 3025 Walnut St; Phila. PA; 22 adv. $25 door; 215-222-1400;  

The Johns and The Dukes did this double bill last year at WCL, and it was a wonderful show with a great turnout and a great overview of different types of blues music. So we are doing it again. This place has a great sound system, room to dance, wonderful food and beverages, and a great staff. We are happy to be back, so come on out; early reservations strongly suggested