Recapping December

Celebrating Winter Solstice beginning on December 1

Fire of any size is a good way to celebrate Solstice.

Winter Solstice brings a time of hope, reassurance, and knowing that no matter how dark the night can be, the sun will always rise.

Counting down to Winter Solstice is a tradition we began in December, 2020. A friend of ours shared the concept during a Zoom gathering at a time when we could not meet in person because of the pandemic ravaging the world.

Preparing the Solstice Spiral.

My husband David and I set up a spiral consisting of 20 tea lights, with one pillar candle at center on a metal tray. We arrange the tealights in a counterclockwise pattern (or widdershins) as we are ushering out the darkness with every candle lit. Some might say we should set the spiral in a clockwise or deosil pattern, to help manifest light.

December 1 we light the first candle.

We prefer to embrace the darkness, and ease it from our life one day at a time, giving thanks for the gifts that come from the darkness: sleep, regeneration, healing, transformation, creation being a few. As the spiral grows in light, the thanks we give adjusts to consider blessings like life, warmth, light, food, good times, rebirth and other similar concepts.

This holiday is more real to me than any Christmas I ever experienced. It is an event that has been occurring since the birth of the Earth. And there is no disputing this. There is no made up Santa, created by Coca Cola. There is no dispute about when this event originally occurred, whether it was in the spring or the summer. Just look up in the sky.

We aren’t worshipping the sun. It isn’t evil, although many people say that Pagans are evil or devil worshippers. We are giving thanks for the sun that lights our world, warms our Earth, and gives us life. It’s not evil. It’s one of the most sacred acts I’ve ever experienced.

We continue to light the candles throughout the month.

So we begin our celebration on December 1, lighting the tealights each night for 20 days. If my math is correct, we use approximately 210 tea lights throughout the 20 days. Then, on the 21st day, shortly before dawn on December 21, my husband and I light all the candles once more, completing the spiral by lighting the center pillar candle.

On Solstice morn, we light the final candle.

We then take the pillar candle outside and in the shadowed folds of dawn, we wait for the exact moment of sunrise, then light our Solstice Fire as we celebrate the rebirth of the sun and say farewell to the longest night of the year. We return the pillar to the spiral and allow it to burn down throughout the day.

David lights the Solstice Fire at dawn.

The first hour or so we sit bundled around the fire, sipping hot cocoa, contemplating the fire, the silence, the awakening of the day, and the life that lays before us. We try not to do anything that resembles work, as it is a day of contemplation and celebration. Normally, in the past (pre-pandemic) we’ve opened our house to friends and family, inviting them to celebrate Solstice by dropping good wishes written on paper into the fire.

Bundled up, we sip hot cocoa and sit around the fire, reflecting on our blessings.

The past two years, we’ve only invited close friends or family to stop by throughout the day, so that there are not more than a couple people at the fire at any given time. It’s been much more subdued these last two years, but I feel that this is heralding a change in our life, and change is not bad.

We have friends who begin the celebration the night before, building a fire and keeping it burning through the night. At dawn, we take over and burn the fire through the day. Then at dusk we have more friends who set a fire and keep it burning, completing the cycle. It wasn’t planned this way, but this is who we are, and the Universe has brought us together.

As our fire catches and grows stronger, we welcome the rising sun.

So as we move through the Wheel of the Year, the sun continues to grow stronger until Summer Solstice, when we celebrate the sun at the peak of its journey. Come the equinoxes that fall between the solstices, we celebrate the balance presented at that time, when there are 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of evening.

These are constant events, not marked in books or proselytized by soft drink companies or television cartoons, that bring proof and validity of the miracle of life, and the wonders of the Universe. They are real. They are true. And they are sacred celebrations as timeless as the Universe and older than humanity.

As the sun sets, our fire winds down, and we take our celebration indoors.

And at day’s end, as the sun sets, we know this truth. That no matter what happens, the sun will rise again on the morrow. No matter how dark your nights are, wrap it around you like a warm cloak, and know that the light and warmth of day is never far away.

Blessed be.

Another turn of the Wheel of the Year has been completed, and life goes on.

Happy National Fruitcake Day!

Happy National Fruitcake Day!

This is one of my favorite celebrations of the year because it gives all Fruitcake Lovers a chance to stand united and unabashedly proclaim their love of fruitcake!

My appreciation of fruitcake was not recognized until well into my adulthood, even though my mom made this a favorite holiday tradition she kept faithfully year after year.

Come November, Mom would pull out her beloved and tattered recipe, make a shopping list of the ingredients. Beginning just before Thanksgiving, Mom would buy the candied fruits, the pecans, the dates and raisins, and lovingly stack them on the counter by the fridge until the first week of December. Money was tight back then, and to buy everything in one stop would impact the family of six weekly food budget. She always put her daughters first, wearing Dr. Scholl’s sandals and socks in the winter so we could have boots and warm clothes. But when it came to splurging on fruitcake ingredients, she figured out how to do it with the least impact to her family.

What fruitcake looks like before it’s fruitcake! Mom’s beloved recipe and two cups of coffee are part of the experience.

I remember Mom lovingly stirring the ingredients together, pouring them into individual small loaf pans intended as gifts, then set them in the oven to bake for an hour at 275 F. She always put a lot of effort, a lot of love, into this tradition and carefully considered who would be blessed with a fruitcake each year. Her four daughters, her brother- and sister-in-law, and her mother were always definite recipients.

Memories stir and blend together like the ingredients combined in this bowl.

We would tease her about her fruitcake passion, but each year she would give us a loaf wrapped in shiny silver tinfoil with a bow on top. Some of us would eat it, some would toss it, and others would hide it in their pantry to be forgotten. It was Mom’s thing, and she didn’t care about the jokes at all. She would eye us knowingly, waiting patiently for us to one day figure it out.

For me, that happened in December, 2012, the first Christmas after she passed away. I finally got it, and picked up the torch that had been handed me with a sense of urgency I’d never known. I began stockpiling the ingredients a little later than she had, but nevertheless, my quest to carry on her tradition was born.

Nine years later, I’m still missing Mom. In her honor each year, I have continued carrying on her tradition. I remember that first Christmas I took over. As I looked in the bowl of mixed ingredients I remembered. As I poured the batter into individual loaf pans, I recalled her doing the very same thing. As they baked, I pondered who would be the lucky giftee of a tiny fruitcake, wrapped in tinfoil with a bow on top.

These are spoken for, but who knows? Maybe next year you will make the list!

This year the fruitcakes almost didn’t get baked, despite all the ingredients stockpiled in the corner of my kitchen. But the night before Christmas Eve the calling came. As if Mom had channeled her fruitcake-baking-energy from Beyond the Veil, although I was exhausted, I stirred the ingredients together, noticing how much my hands resembled hers.

Traditional Christmas classics played, two cups of coffee (one for me, one for her) were poured, and we shared the same conversation we have since she passed and I began the Fruitcake Tradition. I told her how much I loved following in her footsteps. And she told me to add a bit more cinnamon. This year she also gave me permission to adapt the recipe and add almonds if I wanted to. So I did.

Later, after the loafs were baked and cooled, I wrapped them in parchment paper and tinfoil and thanked her for instilling in me her love of fruitcake, tradition, and giving.

My kids are grown, and they now have been handed the torch of teasing me about fruitcake and I wonder who, in years down the road, will carry on the Fruitcake Tradition when I am sitting Beyond the Veil with my mother once again, drinking coffee and eating fruitcake as we watch on, guiding them through the process. I’m not sure if National Fruitcake Day was around when Mom was alive. But if we’d known about it, we would have celebrated together. So, today my sister is coming by for coffee, and I’m going to slice up a piece of fruitcake. We are going to raise our mugs high and toast Mom for all the love she gave, and the traditions she left behind with her passing.

Mom’s fruitcake recipe.

Happy National Fruitcake Day!