Celebrating the Solstice: A Few Thoughts on Being Outside Christmas

Dec 21, 2013

I love Christmas. I was raised celebrating Christmas. And when Lillian was tiny, I created a celebration around the Winter Solstice because I wanted to create an antidote to the Christmas I had grown up with.

Our holiday was about how many presents my sister and I got, and about foddering ourselves on mashed potatoes and sugar cookies, with a dash of my parents fighting thrown in (we were a blended family, with me being the only kid from both my parents, and there was a lot of fighting about ex’s and such). I love my parents fiercely and they gave me so many things – including an inner toughness I rely on almost daily – but one thing I didn’t get from them was a meaningful ritual or a connection to nature, something I have yearned for and had to create for myself. Which, in the scheme of things, is certainly no big deal.

For my Dad, it was an act of love to shower us with gifts, so many gifts it would take us hours to unwrap them all. It was a sign he was not his father, he was not ignorant or poor. It was his own Christmas miracle that he and mom could buy us almost anything we wanted (BTW: we are talking 1960’s buy anything you want, aka Easy Bake Oven and Creepy Crawler Maker, not 2013 buy anything you want aka Tesla’s and private islands).

I love and honor my childhood holiday memories and I wanted my girl to have what I wanted and didn’t get – of course, that’s what we do with our kids. I wanted Lillian to feel connected to nature, to experience the magic glimmer of the holidays and the reality of the earth turning around the sun.

I also didn’t want her to have it all played out in one big bang on Christmas day.

Enter the Solstice. Enter the power and struggle of making up your own holiday. (Note to Pagans: this was 19 years ago. I knew a little bit about other people celebrating the Solstice, but not a lot—I wasn’t part of a pagan community, or a pagan myself, nor was there any Internet.)

Making up your own celebrations is freeing – what makes sense? What feels good? But it’s also fragile. There’s no “we have to light mom’s candlesticks because that’s what we do” or feeling supported by the general culture. That’s hard and also appealing to a rebel like me.

Over the years, we experimented. The first two years we gathered with another family – Kris, Steve, and Sam – and read the two solstice-related stories we could find, fashioned clay animals based on the stories, and put them in a manger in the backyard. Then we ate soup together by candlelight. Those two years were the best because creating rituals with others makes it more real.

Somewhere in there, the “solstice fairy” made an appearance, leaving little fairy gifts on the front steps – always handmade Waldorf-style gifts. We continued reading the same stories, lighting candles, going for walks in the dark.

When Lilly was eight, we moved to the Pacific Northwest, where the return of the light is a MUCH bigger deal than in Santa Barbara. Suddenly, celebrating the solstice was important. It made sense. It connected with us – we wanted the light back.

That’s when we hit upon the ritual we still celebrate (but we’ve certainly missed some years in there, especially after the divorce):

We light candles in all the windows in the house at dusk. Then we go for a walk around the neighborhood and talk about the year – what are we proud of, what are we happy to let go of? When we feel done (or cold enough), we head home…and there is our house, alight with brightness, a symbol of the new year. We then cook together – the very best year was when we lived next to an apple orchard and made applesauce and latkes.

My big take-away after all these years?

We decide what rituals matter.
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It’s harder to make up your own, but someone started the first ones and they probably felt a little odd or out there too.

I would love to hear: What “non-traditional” holiday do you celebrate, or wish you did? What draws you to that date, makes it significant for you? Is your heart yearning to renew this celebration, to share it with others?



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