Sunday, 11 December 2011
Midwinter Festival - A Time To Celebrate
As I wander down my local high street window-shopping and people watching I am aware of the festive lights twinkling above – attached to the various shops and lampposts. The shops themselves - windows brimful of packages covered with tinsel and wrapped up to look like seasonal gifts. Seemingly unaware of the financial crunch we keep hearing about, they beckon the harried Christmas shopper in to increase the amount on the credit cards. At my daughter’s school, they are rehearsing for the school Christmas concerts and busy collecting unwanted toiletries to sell at the seasonal fayre.
And today I was amused to be accosted by the normally friendly parents of her school chums. They spoke to me with undisguised pity in their voices as they asked the usual questions at this time of year. ‘Oh yes that’s right – you’re a pagan aren’t you? Bet you feel a bit left out this time of year? Well what do you do at Christmas then?’ ‘Such a shame isn’t it – doesn’t she get upset at not getting any presents?’. And a number of various similar questions that added up to the accusation of my obvious scrooge like behavior because I don’t do Xmas!!
Of course once I explain that actually, I don’t celebrate the 25th December, but the Solstice a few days before. That yes, we do have a decorated tree, celebrations, sing songs, have presents and do many of the same kinds of things with a different emphasis there is almost a sigh of relief. Then its off to accost the other strange people who don’t ‘do Christmas’ – with the majority of pity levied on the family who’s children are Jehovah’s witnesses and ‘don’t have any Christmas or even birthdays!!!’
It amuses me because of the way people become almost concerned and worried that my child isn’t going to be part of the celebrations with their own kids. Whereas for the rest of the year they seem to have no problem at all that we are a pagan family! It amuses me because I feel that I actually have far more fun and joy throughout the whole year celebrating all the festivals and giving them equal attention and making sure my youngest daughter enjoys herself as well as learning about the reasons why we celebrate them and what they mean.
In 2008 I decided to be pro-active and gave the school and my daughter’s current teacher copies of a book I wrote on celebrating the seasons in a pagan family. It included our family activities and beliefs for the complete yearly festivals as well as the solstice and it was very well received. The school head was very positive and let me know they will be including activities and information in it for inclusion in the assemblies along with the other cultural activities they now include, such as Devali and Hanukkah.
As a family we do enjoy all the seasonal cycles but I do have a sneaky extra love for this time of year. It’s the whole of autumn through to winter that I love the most. Beginning with harvest time – when we have outings foraging in the countryside. Then Samhain – when we have a family circle for friends and children with a party that culminates in the local trick or treat activities. Finally with the many craft activities and preparations we put into our Yuletide feasting; I relish the planning and organizing of the Solstice season. I see no reason why I shouldn’t enjoy this season as much, if not more that the Christians do – whether secular or practicing. And of course as Christmas did actually kidnap our festival, I make no apologies at any of my anticipation and enjoyment of this time of year.
We have been active since the harvests, gathering blackberries, elderberries and other various hedgerow goodies. Making jams, cordials and jellies. Sloes have been steeped in sugar and brandy, and chillies stripped of their skins and submerged in olive oil for several weeks. Ingredients have been collected to make fudge, cinnamon candies, sugared chestnuts and candied peel. Wines brewed and fruits submerged in jars with a variety of alcoholic beverages and each one newly stickered and tied with a ribbon ready for stockings.
Next week we are making the handmade Solstice cards and last night we hand printed the large rolls of wall lining paper for our own wrapping paper. And the 21 matchboxes I have found over the last few months will be decorated and filled with a small chocolate for my daughters Solstice advent style calendar. We still have a pudding and a cake- with the same ritual stirring and wish making – wonderful spell opportunities. And the gingerbread is being cut and decorated into biscuits to hang in star, moon and Goddess shapes on the Solstice tree.
We will go into the local woodlands and find berried holly, ivy and search out the elusive mistletoe to hang around the mantelpiece. Cutting strips of paper we make paper chains and paper decorations for the living room. A ring of willow I made in the summer has dried out and will be decorated with the pinecones we dipped in glitter, with ribbons and more holly to hang on the front door.
My daughter will enjoy the Christmas parties and concerts at school – she knows that the Christian festival is their version of celebrating the light returning at the darkest point of winter. She accepts it and doesn’t seem to have any of the problems of understanding it that her friend’s parents do. We went to enjoy Cinderella at the new Marlowe Theatre last weekend and this year I finish work the day before the solstice.
The night before we will light the Yule candle on the altar(I don’t have a fireplace any more!) and put out clove oranges to represent the Sun returning. On the day itself, my older grown up children and some pagan friends will come along with their families to have presents under the tree, sit round the table and feast on a shared meal while toasting the Solstice with some of the potent wine made from our foraging trips.
And on the 25th December? My daughter and I will take a flask of soup, a bag of birdseed and stale bread and have a hearty walk in the woods and by the river to feed the ducks. When we get home we will sit together watching DVDs and videos after a light lunch and the satisfied feeling that we have celebrated the real meaning of this season – the cycles of life and the balance of light and darkness.
May your solstice or whatever you celebrate be whatever you wish it to be.