Celebrating Winter Solstice
By Patricia Guy
For me, celebrating winter solstice is a primal, human need. I like to acknowledge my changing physical relationship to the sun through observing the solstices and the equinoxes. In the deep mid-winter, the sun and I are the farthest distance from each other, and my appreciation for its warm rays runs deep.
My ancestors lived in a cold climate. When the snows were deep and the nights were long, they gathered close together by a warm fire and told family stories while the cold winds howled outside. They were farmers who knew how to preserve the harvest, to make it last through the winter. They were makers of sausage, cider, beer, sauerkraut, apple sauce, salt pork, and good cheeses. They stored dried fruits and nuts in crocks and hung dried herbs from the rafters. Root vegetables were stored in barrels layered with straw under the house.
When winter solstice came, the precious dried fruits, nuts, butter and spices were baked into a bread sweetened with honey to add needed calories to stay warm and to keep their strength up. Salted pork was cooked into a stew with onions, carrots, potatoes and herbs in a big pot over the fire. The house was filled with the aroma of the baking bread and hot spiced cider. The children were sent out to bring in evergreen boughs to sweep away the cobwebs in the corners, and then the boughs were hung from the rafters to freshen the air. Candles made of bee’s wax offered up the scent of honey on a winter evening. The longest night of the year was a good time to invite in the neighbors to share what we had, to sing the old songs, to laugh and talk, to keep up good cheer to help us remember that spring would come again.
I carry these longings to this day. At the first chill in the air, I begin making my big pots of soup. I find that I can’t resist buying candles. I am attracted to carved wooden deer figures and love the smell of evergreens. Hot herbal teas with spices are my winter immune system boosters. I appreciate a good fire, indoors or out, and find that some of the best conversations happen sitting with family and friends around a fire.
Now I live in Mexico, whose ancestors celebrated the solstices and the equinoxes as mine did, but with different foods and cultural expressions. Like many immigrants, I have adapted to my new home. I have incorporated the seasonal favorites of this land into my own winter solstice celebration. A hot molcajete shared with a friend keeps my hands warm on a chilly December night. A bowl of pozole and a cup of atole with a few tamales keep me feeling warm and nourished. I now put canela in my hot chocolate and enjoy gengibre and canela in my hot cider. Rompope has replaced my egg nog, and rosca de reyes is now my fruit cake. I still gather with friends by fire and candlelight and swap stories. Now I am learning the songs of the Posada, and the “Da le, da le...” song of the piñata.
How we celebrate Winter Solstice changes from country to country, with many cultural variations. What we have in common are basic human needs to gather together to share light, warmth, nourishment, laughter, nostalgia and the desire to cheer each other on to spring.
No matter how we celebrate the deepest, darkest time of winter, we all need that reminder that spring will come again!
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com