Category Archives: Solstice

Merry Solstice!

Solstice treeA couple I knew, determined to not succumb to the rampant commercialization that has, of recent decades, utterly cannibalized Christmas, gave their children two presents apiece on Christmas morning – one nice toy and one expensive outfit. Oh, the kids got presents from their grandparents and aunts and uncles, but, from their parents, that was it. I was impressed not only by the way they stood up to The Man, The Man being, in this case, Santa Claus, but also by their sheer sang froid. By purchasing only two quality items, this enlightened couple avoided overspending on useless junk and saved themselves not only dollars, but buckets of stress. Even better, their gifting regime didn’t turn their kids into hopped up present junkies. Now, this, I thought, is what I’m going to do when I have kids. This is a reasoned and mature way to deal with the utterly untenable situation that Christmas has become – by which I mean, people buying stuff they can’t afford and, if they don’t, the economy collapsing.

And then I forgot.

Walmart Christmas

A hardly jolly Walmart Christmas

Brainwashed by the Juggernaut that is Christmas – the holiday season accounts for about 20% of retail spending — I joined the throngs of beleaguered North Americans trudging up and down the aisles of Walmart, cart laden with Christmas morning cannon fodder made in China, one more piece of crap to be wrapped, unwrapped, broken and, after several years existence in the form of random clutter, discarded. The New Year would dawn drab and chilling. Not only was it frigging January in Canada, but I was about to receive a credit card bill that would take me the next quarter of a year to pay off.

I came to loathe Christmas. All the holiday signified for this member of the Great Church of Lapsed Catholics were endless hours of drudgery and tedium that I would never get back, mounting debt and the seemingly Sisyphean task of gift wrapping – Sisyphean because, in an effort to make the haul seem larger, I wrapped every pair of socks and underwear separately. What was worse, I had done it to myself. I had had a chance to do Christmas differently. Instead, I had bought into the brinkmanship exercised by our train wreck of a retail sector and bought presents like a crazed wolverine, setting the bar for all future Christmases at a level I could neither sustain nor stomach.

solsticeSo, with my husband’s support (and to his great relief), I decided to end my personal war on Christmas and make the Winter Solstice – the true reason for the season, BTW – the focus of our holiday celebrations. In doing so, I have managed to retain what scraps of sanity years of Walmart Christmases left to me. A script of the ceremony follows for those of you who might be interested in trying this for yourselves.  (P.S. The date of the Winter Solstice, commonly thought to occur on December 21, is, in fact, a movable feast: its date varies from year to year. Obeying the logic that, if you’re going to celebrate the Longest Night of the Year, it might as well be the Longest Night of the Year, we made sure to always schedule our celebration on its actual date. Solstice is Solstice, after all.)

For the rest of you, happy whatever-turns-your-crank-and-keeps-you-from-jumping-off-a-bridge.  What follows is what, for many a year, saved my bacon.

solstice mask

Solstice Ceremony


“For our Northern European ancestors, the Winter Solstice symbolized the beginning of the new solar year and, as such, is a celebration of Light and the rebirth of the Sun.”

Participant 1
(hanging an evergreen wreathe from the door)

“This wreath symbolizes continuity of life, protection and prosperity.”

Participant 2
(hanging a mistletoe ball in the hallway)

“This mistletoe symbolizes peace, prosperity, healing, wellness, fertility, rest and protection.”

Participant 3
(placing a seed ball outside for the birds)

“This gift to the birds is a token of our love for the creatures with whom we share the earth.”

Each child places a star, moon, or sun ornament on the tree,
hangs their stocking and receives the gift of a new set of pajamas.
Everyone is given a slip of paper and a pen


“On this, the longest night of the year, we look forward to the light and, in anticipation of its coming, we seek to rid ourselves of the things that weigh us down, that are negative, that we do not want to take with us into the new year. So we ask you to write down what you want to leave behind you and place it in the cauldron.”

The slips of paper are collected and burnt in a small cauldron.
Following this, everyone is given a package
of heirloom wildflower seeds.


“Just as there are behaviors, compulsions, obsessions and bad habits we want to consign to darkness, so there are positive things that we want to embrace in the new year. Think of what you want to do that’s good for you, whether for your health or your soul or your community and write that down on your seed package. Then when Spring comes, find a suitable place and sow these wildflower seeds.”

A bell is rung to mark the death and rebirth of the sun and
a dinner featuring tourtiere and a Yule Log is served.

solstice mask





Quantum Physics for Dummies


Nebula. Wow.

Today is the Autumnal Equinox 2014. Actually, today is Monday and this post is scheduled to be published on Friday so, by the time you’re reading this, it will be after the Autumnal Equinox, perhaps even years into the future. Kind of like looking at distant galaxies through the Hubble telescope, peering millennia into the distant past. Just a whole lot less awesome.

I observe solstices and equinoxes and the four cross-quarter days that mark the midpoint between them – Imbloc and Beltane and Lammas and Samhain.   The changing of the seasons, the dying of the light and its rebirth . . . . These serve to divide my life upon this Earth into manageable chunks; they provide a mechanism by which I can mark the slippage of time between my now and my no-longer-me-what-then. Turn, turn, turn. There is a season.

Right now my husband and I are binge-watching seasons of Through the Wormhole, a documentary series which first premiered on the Science Channel in 2011. Astrophysics is our guilty pleasure. Hosted by Morgan Freeman (who better than Hollywood’s idea of God?) and featuring a geek’s gallery of rock star scientists, it addresses all the big questions: “Is There a Creator?” “What Happened Before the Beginning?” “Does the Universe Have an Edge?,” and, of course, the great granddaddy of all queries, “Is There Life After Death?” Not a one of us that doesn’t have a dog in that fight.

The series bedazzles me, which is not to say that I comprehend the science behind it. My math skills, or, to be more specific, my appalling lack thereof meant that I never was able to rise to the occasion of chemistry and physics and instead was left to languish in the lowly slough that was General Math where I learned to work a cash register, a role that the Digital Age would soon render . . . along with most of my other skills . . . redundant. I cannot divide fractions or, for that matter, calculate a tip to save my life, but I stand amazed before the immensity of the Universe and those rarest of individuals who, in defiance of all that was cool, chose a career in Science.

I long ago abandoned conventional religion as too puny a construct to account for so ginormous a thing as a multiverse. Would you choose to have your child’s serious illness treated by a Stone Age physician or a modern specialist? Why then would you look to the religion of a nomadic Stone Age tribe for answers to the kind of questions  Through the Wormhole poses? But physics . . . that’s big enough. That’s a different story.

If only someone had told me as a teenager how not-boring science was. If only someone had mentioned that it had the potential to unlock the mysteries of the Universe. But would I have listened, adrift in hormonal soup as I was?

If there’s one thing I have learned, it is this: education is wasted . . . utterly wasted . . . on the young.