This year, in the beginning, the usual winter holiday festivities felt staged to me. A little barren, a little rote. We had more cash to buy gifts than usual, but this actually made everything a tad more stressful (shopping) and left me feeling hollow.
I opted out of doing any hosting this year. Usually we host a Winter Solstice feast and open house but I just wasn’t feeling it. I wanted a mellow, stress-free holiday and it was – but I had a hard time connected with the deeper meaning of the season. I dutifully set up my Solstice altar as I do every year and felt nothing there.
It was pretty though.
Then Solstice Eve rolled around. I spent that day reading out of my favourite book for seasonal celebrations, Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddess Traditions by Starhawk. I decided to make a real go of it and celebrate the night the right way, regardless of my hum-drums.
We have a local theatre group here that hosts a yearly Winter Solstice lantern parade in three different neighbourhoods in the city. It’s fantastic. There is a parade, lantern building workshops, fire-dancers, roving bands and entertainment, and Morris Men dancers! (my favourite), along with First Nations dancers, headdress making workshops and last but not least, indoor labyrinths of light, made from paper bags and beeswax candles. What bliss!
I had talked to my family about the tradition of staying up all night on the Solstice, to keep vigil through the night and tend the solstice fire (a candle) and of the importance of watching the sun come up once again after the longest night of the year. My son was really into it, so when we got home, my husband went off to work for the night and we began: we made custard with eggs symbolizing the returning light; we listened to medieval Christmas carols; we painted suns and put them all over the house and the altar. I read fairy tales about Mother Winter and journeys to the Celtic underworld with its silver apple trees, snow and ginger bread houses.
I smudged everywhere and prayed out loud. I offered the custard to the altar and lit all of the candles. .. and something began to happen. I felt like the Grinch when “his heart grew three sizes that day”. The soft lights, the music, the warmth of my family and my home, the acts of creation with cooking and painting, with reverence for the occasion and mindfulness – a slow realization crept over my brow:
this deepening night, it was holy, and I felt it.
Fox grew sleepy so I made him a little bed on the rug in front of the Solstice tree with his blankets and his big stuffed shark. It was warm and the lateness of the hour amplified the magical quality of everything. What a joy it is to watch your child fall asleep naturally, not rushing him to bed so he can get up for school tomorrow. To watch the Sandman put sleep in his heavy-lidded eyes as he drifts off peacefully.
I laid down beside him at some point. I still had the sun candle burning beside me in a big glass jar and did you know, custard takes quite a while to make? You have to check it periodically so although I did drift off deliciously here and there, I always woke up to check on it.
When the sun rose the next day my altar felt decidedly different. Fuller, more alive. With its paper suns, ashes and candles burned down to the quick, it looked like a space that had been used for a purpose, like a room after a party. I loved it. The Spirit of the season had arrived.
One of my patrons resides there too.
Moral of this story? Well I guess there’s a few things in there: finding deeper meaning, delving past the superficial ‘perfect’ moments to alight on pure soul-feeding gold; reminder to enter into our rituals with intention and to interact with our altar and other devotional spaces – that our participation is our connection and our sacred offering – it’s ok if things get messy; encouragement to stay the course and not get sucked back into the mindless consumerism of this time of year, however hard that may feel at times.
And well, JOY! So much of it. So much gratitude for holy Grace and Spirit and the blessings on my hearth. My heart fills with the light of the new-born Sun, child of the Goddess and all of the new possibilities and potentials that the turn of the wheel into a new season and year will bring. Everything is empty, everything is full.
Happy Solstice to you all! And to all a brilliant 2016. I hope your holidays were merry and bright for you. May your family prosper and may your fires never go out.