Saturday, September 20, 2008

Is it December, Already? It's the Solstice Anti-Party Party!

Many writers are preparing their seasonal holiday articles for the October/November/December crush of holiday articles. So I'm getting a jump on everyone and writing mine now.

My nuclear family (husband, son, daughter) and our extended family of friends (about 50 or 60 people), celebrate the winter solstice on December 21st or 22nd, rather than Christmas or Chanukah or Kwanzaa or the “secular holiday party” with Christmas lights and reindeer decorations.

We host a gathering at our home which starts mid-morning and lasts until the wee hours. It is a non-party party. Historically, in European cultures, the winter solstice was celebrated on the shortest day of the year to call back the sun. This was also one of the few major gatherings in the year for tribal people and people who lived in hamlets, on farms, and in tiny villages, and were otherwise separated from socializing outside of the family most of the year.

We recreate, in a modern way, the gathering of clans and communities, friends, families, and strangers. Coming together to socialize, woo, trade, celebrate, marry, and tell stories was the highlight of the year.

Our solstice party begins when we build a great fire in the fireplace which will be kept burning until the sun rises again the following day. Upon arrival, each guests lights a candle on the mantel of our concrete fireplace. We provide a plethora of tea lights, pillars, and such for allow for personal choice. The fireplace was made of concrete, using branches leaves, ferns and grasses from our yard. The impression left behind was colored by a concrete artist and the entire effect is kind of cave-paintingy, now that I think about it.

Our guests come when they are available. Some bring children in the morning or after nap. Some come alone, while others bring the whole clan, including their own visitors. Neighbors we see rarely, best friends, new friends, practitioners, clients, and anyone else who hears about it is invited to join us.

We provide a glorious spread of salmon (we live in the PNW, after all), salads, breads, cheeses, nuts (in the shell), root vegetable dishes, cider, wine, bubbly, and chocolate. Of course, our guests may bring something to contribute, but we make sure to have plenty for all. The idea is to gather everyone together to eat and tell stories, to laugh and flirt and celebrate life. Life comes from the sun and to call it back, we celebrate to send it our strength and life energy.

To further connect with the history and ceremony of the day, we provide a stack of library books all on the topic of storytelling, poetry myths, folktales, tall tales, fairy tales, and such, for anyone to pick up and read at any time. Some read aloud to the group or to children, while others read to themselves or not at all. It isn’t required.

Our other activity is very hands-on for the kids who celebrate with us. We make pine cone birdfeeders to hang in our yard and for guests to take home and hang in their yards.

Throughout the year, I gather the large kind of pine cones that aren’t produced by our own coniferous giants here in the Pacific Northwest. Whether at a yard sale or craft store, I can always find them cheap in the summer.

The kids and parents tie a green twine onto the pine cone and then we glob a fatty spread between the leaves of the dried cones. Because peanut allergies exist within our circle of friends, we use organic shortening to coat the pine cones (the kids only lick their fingers once). After rolling them sticky cones in an assortment of birdseed, we wrap the whole thing in newspaper and set them with the kids’ shoes to be taken home later.

Every year, the kids ask to do this project. It’s so simple and so messy.

Sometimes folks ask for a telling of this story of the solstice, so I talk a bit about it. It’s really an easy, comfortable, fun, not-dressed-up, no stress way to celebrate amid the wacky frenzy that December has become today.

Think about doing something easy like this when you start stressing out over what to wear, serve, say, and who to invite, avoid, feed, and keep out of the booze.


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