23 December 2006

Our First Winter Solstice Celebration

Seven years ago, we turned our Christmas upside down…well, our tree anyway. With two boys of one and three years old, we stood at a pivotal point in our family’s future. Do we continue with the traditions we grew up on, or do we explore other winter holidays to discover our own? We weren’t Christian, so why would we want to keep Jesus as the reason for the season? We also didn’t want to encourage our boys to continue engaging the stress so rampant during the consumer-based holiday.

We really only worried about stealing the magic of the holiday we knew as children from our own. In particular, the magic of Santa Claus. How could we deny them that feeling of wonder we felt as children, stumbling into a living room piled with presents that weren’t there when we went to bed?Santa is fun, but one thing troubled us greatly with the propagation of the myth: We’d be lying to our kids. Telling them that someone named Santa brought them presents every year would violate the importance we place on honesty. After much deliberation, we decided to give up Santa and to instead grant them a celebration equivalent to, if not exceeding, the joy of the traditional Christmas. We partied from dusk to dawn.

We chose to celebrate solstice, because as prior Alaskan residents, we understood the importance of December 21/22. We knew it meant the sun would grace us with its presence much more often. Our research led to some striking revelations. We learned that Christmas trees were hung upside down in most homes until about 150 years ago. After hanging ours upside down, we understood why. Not only did it create a much more beautiful display, but it was also an amazing space saver.

We learned that the practice of decorating trees stems from the medieval ritual of Apple Wassailing, performed to ensure crop fertility. While the matron of the home was knee deep in baking the holiday bread, the lord of the manor would crash through the door, dash the dough to the ground, and push everyone in the family out to the prized apple tree in the orchard. They would dance around the tree, pour cider made from the previous year’s crop on its roots, and decorate it. We re-enacted this ceremony at the start of our celebration, only I assumed the role of baker instead of Renee, and we decorated the walnut tree in our front yard.

To keep the child-like energy of the season, we invited about 10 kids over to join us. We also invited adults, but they declined. We loaded our refrigerator with sodas and put together candy-filled packages. The trick was to keep the kids up all night, until the sun rose. We told them stories of how ancient people believed the sun might set and never rise again unless they reveled all night, yelling out to the sun to rise, rise, rise.

We told the story of the Holly King and the Oak King and their quest to gain control, and how their power waxes and wanes until the other eventually regains control. Then we clipped some holly and oak from our yard and made it the first addition to our Yule Log, which after adding personal affects chosen by all the guests before the celebration, we burned in our barbecue while drinking hot cocoa.

Some of the kids were a bit freaked out by the upside down tree, others loved it. Some wished they got the piece of the cake with the coin in it. All claimed that they would be the one to wake the sun in the morning. When el sol finally rose that morning, two of them were left to squint into the glory of solar radiation…our three year old boy and a thirteen year old girl. The older of the two looked at the younger and said, “Now that we’ve woke the sun, let’s wake the others.”

*This entry was originally written for www.localsguide.com.


Skylar Suste said...

I give you a smile. That is so cool..


Kyle Stich said...

Hey, Sky. Haven't seen you online in awhile. Hope everything's going good for.