They say that celebrations of the Solstice gave salve to the fear of our ancestors who, after the warmth of the growing season faded, became afraid in the long dark that is winter.
Now that quaint need has diminished, they say; and with our modern-man mastery of the elements (save for Nature's Finest Efforts), the fear factor has all but disappeared (save for that interminable, nervous wait during power outages during Nature's Finest Efforts). We have matured, right? With technology and our knowledge of Things, why celebrate the season's turning? Is Solstice relevant, or simply a quaint effort by some to capture an absent glory?
I ask myself these questions in the bustle of my everyday. But the answer that comes consistently is clear: No, not quaint, but very necessary-- necessary most especially now, when we are most disconnected from the very things that feed us, that make us whole. The precious things that make us fully human.
How precious it is to connect with something so "simple" as light.
Yesterday, my little family met the winter full-on: we walked all morning in the cold of it, the glorious snow of it; we fired up the oven, and baked warmth and wonderful smells. We greeted our city neighbors and played among all the wild things that normally we think hidden. We exchanged presents by the twinkle of our Yule tree. And then, this morning? This morning I understood the real gift was our ending the technology-imposed, hubris-filled "separation", of consciously deciding to embrace-- and celebrate-- exactly what was.
It takes a lot for me to remember to turn off the convenience of distraction, meet flame to candle and sit with loved ones to laugh through, and contemplate, the dark and cold of winter. And when I finally do remember? The "convenience" fades to make room for something far greater: Joy. I wish the very same for you!
The cold, wintry weather has settled in on New England once again. And again I find comfort in the space of my kitchen, lingering in its warmth and in the joy that comes with artfully nourishing my little family.
I had an idea to make a post about all the kitchens I have loved in my life: the dusty one in New Mexico, where I first learned to cut open a container of tofu in a mild attempt at vegetarianism; the tiny one in Colorado, where I bustled about with my very-pregnant belly, trying hard not to knock anything off the low shelves with that ample protrusion. My favorite may have been the bright, cool one in California where I fed my son his first bites of 'real food'... Or perhaps it was the ugly one in Mobile, that nevertheless seemed always full of friends and comfort food.
Technology didn't cooperate, and so as it is that photo-memoir will have to wait for another day. But it struck me that as I approach this, my first anniversary of living --for the first time-- in New England, what I was really getting at in my kitchen-post leanings was that most comforting ideal of the kitchen I know: the comfort of normalcy. For it occurs to me lately that I've spent quite a lot of energy missing all the things I thought I knew: of flavors, faces, sounds, even movements; keys to my life that once made me feel whole, alive, "myself".
Now I see that I must acknowledge what is my new familiar-- because what is comforting, and the people delivering that comfort, changes so very swiftly as this life moves on and on. Relationships shift, memories fade or worse, wear a sheen of gilt in our minds as the tarnish of discomfort wears off. To this I hold all the things that follow, in some imaginary high standard of who I am. But as I look around, I might ask more than I answer: who am I?
Movement, comes the swift answer. Light in time.
I know where this longing has come from; for it is often in leaving that we notice best what we've left behind. ('Tis the season of feasting-travel, after all.) Tonight, I turn the car gently through the tight labyrinth of cramped street-parked cars and tightly-packed Victorians that line the avenues leading to home-- to this home, this time. The route has become so much more familiar in the last few months. The foreign sense that stung like the disquieting taste of iron on the tongue has shifted now to a vague ease of familiarity: my neighborhood, my street, my house. Christmas lights flicker a flattering mimicry of the city shops further around the bend, and each adorned home lends a feeling rootedness and company for my short journey. My neighborhood, my street, my house. I open the door, and with my family light the second candle of our Solstice advent wreath.
Tomorrow night, we will light the third candle in further anticipation of the light that is to return after the longest night of all. Yet for all that eager waiting, I drift softly back into the flame of that second candle, aglow in the room that lends me the best comfort wherever I am, wishing only that I could remain committed to that flame which glows brightest, right now.
...and suddenly, it hits me: how very short the days are, and how very dark and cold. And that there is no stopping them, these darkening days! On and on into winter now we roll, each day shorter than the last. The flurry of autumn confetti is gone; the bright crispness of an October sky has given away to December's chilly, gray ache. And I finally notice, it's been well over a month since I really noticed just where I am.
There is not much worth being joyfully poetic about, in early December. Sure, there are pictures of bells and the ringing of cars down a cold-concrete street. Encouragements abound; we all know how we should be feeling. And yet, what is this strange season, where darkness swallows us up without apology, and cold rushes in so very rudely?
Now, just this: imagine there is no Christmas; no Yule, not even a single Hanukkah candle to burn. What does December tell you? Is there any whisper of the light that is to come?
In the morning, I like the way the cold greets me as I sneak out from under the warmth of bedcovers, and the way the shock of it fills my lungs when I step outside. And in the evening, I like how surprised I am each and every time that "it's darker so much earlier today...". An old familiar twinge of fear, then faith, creeps in.
I used to think of this season as a season of anticipation: It will get warmer, it will get lighter, it will get better. Now I find I actually seek to hold the cold a bit longer in my fingers before the mug warms them. Or I let the bite of frosty air embrace me in its odd way, lingering as long as I can in the beguiling sensations of merciless nature.
The leaves are gone; and for all my wanting of it, I did not see the last of them fall. I dropped that desire like an old doll. Now shadows play in the new light beaming about the tree more often than my thoughts once did. And once in a while, I remember to look.
Oisin G'Dea's mama, wife of an Ruaphok Gaiscíoch; lover of the creative life, nomadship and stewardship; zen priest, gardener, artist, writer, herb-crafter, counselor and dreamer... I've lived in the inspiring high-desert, mountain-punctuated New Mexico & Colorado ~ misty redwood-coated coastlines of Northern California ~ strangely elegant riversides in Southern Maryland ~ snowy, busy Greater Boston ~ lovely and welcoming Hilltown Massachussetts.