Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Solstice tide and making merry

(Happy New Year!  Here's to 2014!  I started this post a few days ago and am just now finishing it up after a sparkling new year's party here at the house--we celebrated around Icelandic time.)  

:: Solstice Tide:  
^Town sleigh-rides for the kids after visiting with Santa Claus.^

If Christmas seasons in the past have ended in the mental equivalent of hair-pulling rush-hour traffic, this year was like floating a slow, meandering river with just a little class 2 rapid right near the apex.  This was in part due to lowering my own expectations, realizing we don't have to have ALL our solstice traditions laid out RIGHT NOW, and that the whole point is to take it easy, be with family and friends, give, feast, light candles and celebrate getting over the hump of dark, winter days.
Also, for the first time since I was a naive kid, I was comfortable celebrating Christmas.  For years, since the original airing of that Seinfeld episode, my family has celebrated "Festivus for the Rest of Us."  This season, I've been reading "The Winter Solstice: The Sacred Traditions of Christmas" which has made me feel so much more connected to the holiday even though I wasn't, truly, raised Christian.  Turns out, pretty much every single tradition associated with Christmas has been going on for a hell of a long time before Jesus.  Every. Single. One.  Santa (this folklorist links to early shamans), reindeer, gift-giving, evergreen boughs, mistletoe, the 12 days, feasting, even the birth of a "Midwinter Wonder Child" is pre-christian.
As a kid I remember starring for what seemed like hours (but was probably seconds) at my mom's nativity scene.  This is the first time in my adult life I have set up a nativity scene (a hand-me-down from family).  My kids loved it.  And really, it's such a common, life-affirming scene: everyone fawning over a newborn baby.  Not once did I get an uncomfortable squirm in my belly at celebrating the birth of baby Jesus.  I am applauding myself for getting over it.
 In the end it's all about one thing: getting past the hump of a disappearing sun and witnessing that life-giving star spend more time in the sky and less time sunk into the earth.  Oh, I have so many ideas for our Solstice Tide traditions in future years!  (But it's not over yet!  The 12 days of Christmas begins on Christmas day and ends on the twelfth night of January 5th.  So technically folks, you shouldn't take down your tree or your lights until January 6th.  Just sayin.  And did you know those twelve days are the reconciliatory difference between the lunar and solar calendars?)  Fascinating stuff, I tell you.

:: Making Merry:
From wool felt and with the help of a certain 4-year-old, I finally stitched together a "sun-star" for our Christmas tree.  We've never had one and for the last two years Juniper has wanted a star atop our tree.  We hope to embellish with glitzy beads in years to come.  
 My kids found magic and wonder in decorating the tree.  But the magic doesn't stop there.  They re-decorate the tree daily.  Hazel stands under it and in her adorably flat, loud, monotone singing voice, she rings out: "OH KISSMAS TEE!  YO LEAVES SO UNCHANGING!"
:: Speaking of trees, we cut ours Chevy Chase Christmas Vacation style.  Which is to say, we went into the woods, picked out a tree, cut it down, made snow-angles, and then...the back of the truck topper was frozen shut.  Us girls all sat in the back seat with a subalpine fir in our laps.
:: I made the kids almost-matching reversible skirts.
:: The kids made cookie-cutter ornaments then painted and decorated with glue and glitter.
:: Grandparents came and joined in the merry-making.
:: Grandpa encouraged independent decal-placement on early-opened gifts.
:: Cookies with Grandma L, of course!
^Juniper and friend Q.^
:: Juniper and I had our first, true, mother-daughter date.  On Solstice, I took her to see a refreshingly non-traditional ballet production of "The Princess and the Pea."  I am happy that her first theatre experience was a live performing art.  She LOVED it.  She was a star audience member and whispered questions in my ear, wanting to understand the storyline at all times.  Since then, every few nights (tonight, for instance) she asks us to place a pea under her mattress.  She feels it, of course, and will announce in the morning that she must be a princess.  As for me, I likely haven't been to a ballet production since I went with my mother.  Love this tradition.  Thanks, mom.
:: Santa came to town and a star-struck Juniper was led down the aisle by her friend K, all the while covering her glistening eyes with a tree frog.  It took her a minute, then she gave him a hug and at my prompting, talked about how she was Santa for Halloween (but then forgot to tell him what she wanted for Christmas).  As for Hazel, she wanted nothing to do with him, but happily sat on my lap next to him.      
After visiting with Santa, each kid received a hand-crocheted hat and scarf made by a single woman on the town council.  Amazing!  
:: In keeping with the last two years, Juniper loves Christmas music and now Hazel too.  They skip around the house singing and dancing and jingling bells.  J bug's preschool class went caroling, but I don't know if she sang a single word under the spotlight.
:: For months, if you asked Juniper what she wanted for Christmas, she responded with an unwavering: "I want a roller-bag!"  When asked what she would do with a rollerbag, she'd respond, "Go to the airport!"  And if you asked where she was going, she'd say, "Cambodia!"  She talked about this so much that her preschool teacher pulled me aside one day and excitedly asked if we were planning a trip to Cambodia.  Hazel, she just wanted a candy cane.  (Although Santa knows sisters prefer to travel together.)
I had planned to make sparkly oats to leave for the reindeer again, but Juniper wisely suggested carrots and lettuce instead.  Both kids picked exactly which cookies we'd leave out for Santa--he got the biggest, most sprinkle-encrusted cookies ever.  I think he was happy about it.
Up next: Christmas, New Year's and the last hurrah!


  1. Happy New Year! It sounds like you all have had a lovely holiday season and the Solstice/Christmas book is definitely going on my To Read list. Also, I snorted a bit at the pic of the tree hanging out of the truck. That was awesome! xo

  2. Gretchen! I love your writing! And such great photos!

    1. Tina! Thank YOU! Fun to see a comment from someone I've locked eyeballs with! : )

  3. aw such loveliness! I used to be christian when I was young but no longer yet I have also embraced Christmas in my own way too. I enjoy the celebrations as a way to light up a cold winter. To come together with friends and family to show how you care about them with gifts and time well spent. To bring a little magic in the form of santa into our homes and spark the imaginations of my little ones. To take part in traditions like you say have been going on for a long long time. I think Christmas brings as together. I'm over feeling weird about it too ;)

    Happy New year to you and your lovely family xxx


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