I used to live in Erie, PA, five blocks from Lake Erie. It was incredibly cold and windy there and, since I only lived there during the school year, it seemed to snow all the time. I remember on more than one occasion on the walk to class from my apartment, my eyes would water from the wind blowing in my face, and then the tears would literally freeze on my cheeks. There were days when the wind chill was close to -20°F.
I think I was depressed the entire time I lived there.
I've enjoyed Winter more since I moved to the Pacific Northwest. It doesn't snow often or much where I live, and I do not miss the snow. (Living in lake-effect hell put me off snow really fast.) I don't like being cold, and I'd prefer to just visit places with snow. The rain here doesn't bother me—I actually really like rain. I find it peaceful.
The darkness of this time of year still gets to me, which is why I've decided to start celebrating this last and longest day of darkness each year. I need to celebrate the Winter Solstice. There's something in me that needs to mark the transition to longer days with more light, days that aren't dominated by nighttime.
Solstice calendar like this one from Living Peacefully With Children. I love how, in each day's pocket, they've added a paper with an activity to mark the day. When Daniel is older, I'd like to do something like this with him.
Melodie from Breastfeeding Moms Unite! wrote about her family's plans for attending a community Solstice celebration, which sounds like a lot of fun and a wonderful way to mark the day. I appreciate what she had to say about the many ways that Christianity has borrowed symbols from Pagan tradition:
...[D]id you know that evergreens are a symbol of immortality? (They don’t turn brown like other trees). Christmas trees themselves connect to the immortality promised by Christ, and Christmas tree ornaments are stand-ins for the apples Northern European pagans tied to trees to remind themselves that the life giving Spring and Summer would return. In the Waldorf Tradition, the candle holders for the candles in the Advent Spiral Walk are made from apples. The pagans also placed candles in the branches of their trees, and light as we know, is a symbol of life. The Solstice provides hope for the rebirth of Spring after the “death” that is Winter–in other words, life, in this world, and Christ provides for a rebirth in the next world. And of course, light is a symbol of peace. [Namaste - The light in me greets the light in you.]I have trouble with this time of year not only because of the darkness, but because of the consumer culture we live in, and the overwhelming push to buy, buy, buy. I realize that Santa and receiving presents aren't the "reason for the season," but growing up in Christian church had the effect of (unfortunately) teaching me that many people don't "walk the talk."
I feel like Christmas has been changed into something it's not supposed to be by consumer culture. The Solstice hasn't. Celebrating the changing seasons and the returning of the light to our days is a clear and well-defined event that I'd like to focus on at this time of year. It encourages us to look outside ourselves, to appreciate nature and the Earth we inhabit. It isn't about accumulating things.
I'm enjoying this time with Jaymz of discovering the rituals we want to continue from our families of origin, and coming up with new traditions for our family to celebrate in the future. I think recognizing (even in a small way) the Winter Solstice will be a welcome part of our Winter traditions for years to come.
Are you marking or celebrating the Solstice at all this year? (Did you catch the total lunar eclipse last night?) I'd love to hear about it!