And a fine secular Christmas was had by all.
Back to pondering my resistance to the solstice and its related holiday. In part, it’s the connection with the secular traditions: gift-giving, greenery, silly music, feasting. The winter holiday is all shiny joy — something that I tend to interpret as shallow.
No, I prefer to delve into darkness, the deep fluid of meaning hidden beneath the crust of ice, or the stars that burn in the bitter black of the night. Like many shamanic types, I have a thirst for ecstasy — religious experience that draws one outside the boundaries of one’s own brain and flesh.
But no matter which way I slice it, Mean Geimhridh — Yule, Winternights, whatever name you choose — is as sweet as a slice of fruitcake.
And this makes perfect spiritual sense. Merriment — the gathering of loved ones, gifting, feasting, song — truly is key to the meaning of solstice. In winter’s depths, a community requires some levity to survive. Laughter lightens the darkest night. Companions warm the cold road. You do not survive the winter alone. You do not survive it by shutting out your companions, or silliness, or cake in favor of a dour utilitarianism. And by the same token, you can’t just trance the winter away; you need planning, grounding in cold, hard realities — the flesh balancing the spirit.
Solstice is a dance between survival and celebration, seriousness and joy. After all the preparations for winter’s rule, the balance starts to tip on the darkest night. Yes, the coldest months are ahead — but so is the light.
Celebration, too, is a kind of ecstasy — the kind that draws you out of yourself, cracking a smile from ear to ear as a loved one rips through colored paper. A liminal time in which we forget our rules: the social rules of master and servant, the eggshell-walking boundaries of family life and power dynamics, the rules of diets and propriety. We act like children, rejoicing in food, fun, ridiculous songs.
Which is why Brighid laughs at me in this season and sets my sleeves on fire: You’re so damned serious. Lighten up!
Next year, as challenging as it is for me, I’ll follow in the footsteps of my home grove and make Mean Geimhridh a ritual of fun and frivolity. As ridiculous as it sounds, for me that represents actual spiritual work.
Yule, solstice, midwinter, whatever: Lighten up!
And the sun doth rise again.