Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: Winter Solstice

This quote from Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie says, “Holidays are about experiences and people, and tuning in to what you feel like doing at that moment. Enjoy not having to look at a watch.”

Holidays on Rana Station

Do they celebrate holidays on Rana Station? Of course they do!

Personally, I think holidays are not only some of the most fun and interesting things religions or other types of communities do. Despite all the stresses and upheavals we hear so much about, holidays fulfill basic human needs.

A family gathers around a table in a pre-Covid era.
(Hearing Health Associates/Shutterstock)

The reasons for the seasons

Even sober, serious, hard-working adults need to play, once in a while. We need to break the routine. To relax with friends or family. To do beautiful—or frivolous—or spiritually-renewing things. And to have excuses to make fancy recipes.

Or all of the above.

Much of the world (though not all) celebrates some kind of holiday around this time of year. As I explained on Artdog Adventures last week, cultures that developed in the Northern Hemisphere often have holidays around the winter solstice. This allows celebrants to come together and renew their hope at the darkest, and sometimes the coldest, time of the year.

I believe there are important reasons why every religion and nearly every human community we know about throughout history has paused every once in a while for celebration, food-sharing, and renewal.

This quote from Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie says, “Holidays are about experiences and people, and tuning in to what you feel like doing at that moment. Enjoy not having to look at a watch.”
(Quotefancy/Evelyn Glennie)

Religions in space?

Science fiction writers and readers often regard religion with deep suspicion. There are good reasons for this. Many religious leaders and groups have regarded science fiction and fantasy as corrupt, probably contrary to religious teachings, or even downright demonic.

Many creative people, particularly those with non-cisgender, non-traditional orientations, have been abused by misguided followers of religions.

So I understand the impulse to write science fiction that assumes all religions are either abusive, or outmoded superstitions. Either of those can be left behind with no loss by the enlightened ones who embarked for the stars.

But in real life it hasn’t worked that way, because religions that function in a healthy manner for their devotees are neither abusive nor mere superstition. I’ve made the argument in a past blog post that art and religion will come with us, if we leave Earth for the stars.

Ranan holidays

With that kind of lead-in, you shouldn’t be surprised that I have populated my fictional space station with followers of major (and some smaller) world religions. So far, some of my characters are Christians, some Muslims, some Jewish, some Hindu, some Buddhist, and some Wiccan. Others are not religious, or claim no particular religious identity.

With the religions come holidays (in addition to national holidays, such as Founders’ Day). Holidays on Rana Station matter in the stories, because they mean something to the characters. But translating any religious practices, such as holidays, into a space-based environment brought sometimes-odd challenges.

For instance, in what direction is the qibla (Muslim sacred direction), when there is no north, south, east, or west, only leeward, spinward, starboard and port? How does one meaningfully celebrate season-based festivals on a space station where the weather never changes?

I contend that clever, committed people will work out ways. I’ll look into some of the calendrical approaches next week. Meanwhile, consider that someone, somewhere, is celebrating a holiday every few weeks. Thus, Rana Stationers have lots of legitimate opportunities to party.

This quote from American aphorist Mason Cooley says, “Good parties create a temporary youthfulness.”
(Good Morning Quotes/ Mason Cooley)

The really important questions

My currently-in-progress XK9 “Bones” Trilogy takes place late in the year. In fact, just about exactly this time of year. Aspects of the holiday season enter into the action at least once (so far), and into the backgrounds of settings several times. It’s a “Christmas trilogy” in the way that the Lethal Weapon movies are “Christmas movies.” (Another Gephardt-family-favorite “Christmas movie” of this sort is The Long Kiss Goodnight).

So now I must address the jolly old elephant in the room: Does Santa fly his sleigh to Rana Station? Or is it strictly “Grinch Station” during the holidays? It’s supposed to be this great, kid-friendly place, designed to help everyone reach their full potential. Can that even happen . . . without Santa??

Well, whether you call him Santa Claus, Papa Noël, Father Frost, or “Christmas Old Man,” he’s known in most of the world (though not in many African nations). Ranans know about Durga Puja, Ramadan, Bodhi Day, Yom Kippur, Beltane, and Christmas, among many others.

So it’s a pretty good bet that Santa’s touched down on-Station in one form or another, too. How do reindeer, snow, and the North Pole translate, for children growing up in a world that’s eternally in “growing season,” and has none of those things? I think my best answer is to ask in return, “are parents and grandparents who’ve been reared to achieve their full potential likely to be imaginative and adaptable?”

Two live reindeer in fancy harnesses flank an actor dressed as Santa Claus, in the traditional red-and-white suit, with a long white beard.
(Sussex Life/uncredited photographer)

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to Hearing Health Associates, for the “holiday table” photo. I appreciate Quotefancy for the Evelyn Glennie quote about holidays, and I’m indebted too AIRBOYD on YouTube, for the Apollo 8 Christmas Eve broadcast in which the crew read from the book of Genesis. Thank you, “Good Morning Quotes,” for the quote about parties from Mason Cooley. Finally, I’m grateful to Sussex Life for the 2014 “Santa with reindeer” photo. I appreciate you all!

A person lights their candle from one held by their companion, while a circle of others with candles look on.

A season of small bright spots

We’re back at the nadir of the year (at least in the Northern Hemisphere), and looking for a few small bright spots.

This year, especially, those can be hard to find. Relative lacks of urgency from certain Senators notwithstanding, this winter will be a very deep nadir indeed.

People are out of work. People are hungry. They can’t pay their rent, and a national moratorium on evictions ends soon. Death tolls from Covid-19 have surged higher than a 9/11 every day.

Spiky white coronaviruses like snowflakes dot the sky of a snowy landscape in this uncredited illustration.
(Uncredited illustration/Medpage Today)

Political division and controversy haven’t taken a break, either. The Supreme Court only recently turned down an appeal–backed by 17 state attorneys-general and 106 Republican members of Congress–that sought to overturn a legally-conducted election and disenfranchise millions of US voters. Anti-maskers and a rising chorus of vaccine-resisters threaten to prolong the pandemic yet more.

And yet there are small bright spots

Amidst all the gloom and dire predictions, few could blame a person for feeling daunted. But small bright spots do pop up.

There’s the stray puppy who took a nap in a nativity scene, caused an online sensation when someone photographed her, and who in the end found a forever home.

The Black family in North Little Rock, Arkansas who received a racist note after they placed a Black Santa Claus in their outdoor Christmas display–but whose mostly-White neighbors, once they learned about this, put Black Santas in their yards, too, in solidarity.

Chris Kennedy’s yard sports a string of white lights, a large, multicolored sign that proclaims “JOY,” a Christmas tree, and an inflatable Black Santa Claus in the middle.
(Photo by Chris Kennedy, via the Washington Post.)

The “world’s loneliest elephant” finds a new home and a small herd (parade?) of elephant friends, thanks to a court order, international cooperation, a pop star, and a well-prepared animal rescue operation.

Hope in a time of darkness is what humans do

Love does (sometimes) still triumph. Kindness (sometimes) shines through, and we humans do (sometimes) rise to the moment to share good works, generous acts, and gentle treatment. After all, ‘Tis the season.

Last year I published a post about the many holidays that happen at this time of year. It’s no accident that they do, since they all originated in the Northern Hemisphere.

The candles of Christian Advent, the miraculous oil lamp and steadily-brightening menorah of Hanukkah, and the bonfires of Winter Solstice and Yule all bring small bright spots to life in the vast darkness of the year’s darkest days.

The illustrated quote from the Most Reverend Desmond Tutu says, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”
(Design by Rocio Chavez, Your Sassy Self)

We say “where there’s life there’s hope,” and that certainly seems to hold true for healthy humans. We may say “bah, humbug!” We may indeed be pessimists as individuals (Yes, the world needs pessimists, too! They often make better leaders, more realistic managers, and outstanding comedians). But humankind evolved to band together and help each other. Cooperation is our species’ best tool for survival.

Passing the light

In many Christian candlelight services we celebrate “passing the light.” We’ve stood or sat or knelt, sang, prayed, and listened throughout the service. All while holding an unlit candle.

At the end of the service, all or most of the artificial lights go off. Then the ushers come down the aisle(s) to light the candle at the end of each row. The person next to the end lights their candle from the end candle. Then the person next to them takes the light. Then the next, then the next, until everyone’s candle burns bright, and the sanctuary is filled with their collective light.

A person lights their candle from one held by their companion, while a circle of others with candles look on.
(Photo from Hotty Toddy, via Tien Skye’s inspirational post on Medium.)

Having participated in many such services, I can tell you it’s a powerful effect. I know other religious traditions and secular groups observe similar rituals. Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience. My point here is not to preach the Gospel, so much as suggest we can use this as a helpful metaphor.

Creating small bright spots

How can we, as individuals or “covid bubbles,” create small bright spots for others? You may feel as if you’ve been in solitary confinement since March (and yes, you kind of have been), but it’s still possible to reach out virtually, even while reaching out physically is still dangerous.

Any day is a good day for charitable giving or volunteering. You don’t have to wait for a designated “Day of Giving” to donate, if you’re able. Shelters for victims of domestic violence and food banks everywhere are experiencing record need. And there are many creative ways to volunteer while socially distancing. Seek out a local charitable organization, and ask how you can help.

Offer a lifeline to a small, locally-owned business. Weird Sisters Publishing officially endorses buying physical books through local independent booksellers whenever possible. Pick them up curbside (this usually saves on shipping, too!). Find one near you through Bookshop (if you don’t already have yours on speed-dial).

Order carryout or delivery from your favorite local restaurants as often as you can afford to. Local toy stores, game shops, gift shops, and small but wonderful boutique designers all probably sell gift certificates if you’re not sure about sizes, colors, or tastes. And all are desperate for customers right now.

The design says, “When you support handmade you are not just supporting a person, small business, our economy; You are purchasing a small part of an artist’s heart.”
(Design by Menchua, of Moms & Crafters.)

Small bright spots for freelancers

Become a Patreon sponsor for someone whose music, videos, artwork, podcasts, or other creative work has warmed your soul and kept you company over the long months of lockdown. Don’t forget Etsy for small creative businesses, either.

Find wonderful handmade goods through a group such as the Convention Artists Guild (out of the Denver area) on Facebook. They hold regular Virtual Art Shows, where you can buy all sorts of cool stuff. My sister’s posts of this week and two weeks ago on The Weird Blog feature some of her favorite local Texas artisans’ work. But wherever you live, local artists are doing amazing work. Seek them out!

Here’s a list of seven great ways to support small artists, from a guest post on this blog by the musician Losing Lara, that originally ran in 2018. Although we can’t go to live concerts right now, many musicians and other performers are using platforms such as Twitch, You Tube, and various others to stream their events.

However you choose to do it, I hope you find that the more you share small bright spots in the darkness, the brighter and warmer and more joyous your own life becomes.

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to Medpage Today, for the “Covid-19 Winter” illustration. I really appreciate Chris Kennedy and The Washington Post for the photo of the Kennedys’ holiday yard display. I love the Most Reverend Desmond Tutu “hope” quote, as realized by the designer Rocio Chavez (check out her blog and her Facebook page, for some real mood-elevators!). Find some more heartwarming content on Tien Skye’s inspirational Medium post, as well as the candlelight photo, which came from Hotty Toddy. Thank you both! Finally, many thanks to Menchua, of Moms & Crafters, for her “Handmade is Special” design. I think it’s pretty special, too, which is why I posted it once before on this blog, back in 2018.

Winter Solstice is December 21.

A month of holidays

December is a month of holidays. For several years, I’ve labored to create blog posts about the holidays that fall during this month. When I realized I was focusing exclusively on December holidays but no others, I started my “Holidays Project” last summer.

At this point I’ve done feature posts on nearly every major religious holiday that usually falls in December, as well as several more minor ones and at least two that are secular in nature. Why so many holidays in one month?

Winter Solstice is December 21.

Blame it on the Solstice. 

The astronomical event of the Winter Solstice creates the shortest daylight of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. It falls on December 21, nearly every year. Combine that fact with the nature of humans, and a holiday of some sort is near-inevitable

We humans have a psychological and spiritual need seek out hope and a cosmic picture of the Universe that makes sense. And we probably need it most of all when food is short and we’re in danger of freezing to death. That’s why December is a month of holidays.

I explored Solstice traditions in some depth, in a blog post from 2016 that still gets many hits every yearGet drunk, eat dumplings or fruit, and party down. It’s traditional! 

Festivals of light

Not surprisingly for holidays that originated during a month of long nights, a lot of December holidays feature candles or fires. 

A Solstice festival of light/fire is YuletideIn a 2013 post, I focused on the Yuletide legend of Krampus, but the tradition of burning the Yule Log (originally a whole tree, or most of one) is probably more well-known to those of us whose ancestors hail from the British Isles, where the related custom of Wassailing also originated. Of course, many people prefer their “Yule Logs” to be made of cake, rather than wood!

Winter Solstice bonfires are a feature of a celebration in Maine, in this photo from Bangor.
Winter Solstice bonfires are a feature of a celebration in Maine. (Bangor Daily News/Eric Michael Tollefson)

Last year, the first Sunday of Advent and the first day of Hanukkah both fell on the same day, December 2. This year Advent started on December 1, but Hanukkah doesn’t begin till sunset on December 22.

Compared with Yom Kippur and several of the others, Hanukkah is a relatively minor holiday that has gained a greater following because of its proximity to the Christian holiday of Christmas, celebrated on December 25 each year.

Christmas originated as a religious holiday, and it still is one of the most important holidays of the Christian year, preceded by the Advent season and smaller holy or feast days such as St. Nicholas Day, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and St. Stephen’s Day.  If you think about it Christmas is a month of holidays, just by itself.

Secular observations

Especially in recent years, many individuals, cultures and traditions have embraced some of the more glamorous elements of Christmas, including Santa Claus, Christmas trees, holiday lights on buildings, and Christmas presentswithout much interest in the Christian religious aspects.

There will likely always be people who decry a “war on Christmas” (meaning a minimization of the religious aspects), it seems unlikely that these exuberant and sometimes garish secular holiday traditions will go away anytime soon. They’re too darn much fun.

The colorful lights outline each building and go on for blocks and blocks each year on Kansas City's Country Club Plaza.
The granddaddy of municipal Christmas light displays is the annual display in Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza (unattributed photographer/KC Kids Fun)

One, somewhat peculiar spin-off of Christmas is Festivus, inspired by a TV show and celebrated with greater or lesser levels of devotion by aficionados.

considerably more spiritual, but not religious, celebration is Kwanzaa. I explored the days of Kwanzaa in some detail, back in 2017. Although the first day had to share billing with Boxing Day, the secondthirdfourthfifth, and sixth days got their own posts. The seventh day of Kwanzaa is also New Year’s Day.

However you celebrate this month of holidays, I hope you find love, joy, and peace among the hectic pace and the welter of traditions!

IMAGES: I created the “Winter Solstice” composite with help from Ksenia Samorukova (Ukususha) and Rawpixel at 123RF. Many thanks to the Bangor Daily News and Eric Michael Tollefson, for the photo of the bonfires in Maine, and to KC Kids Fun (and their unsung photographer) for the photo of the Kansas City Country Club Plaza holiday lights.

Wishing you a magical Summer Solstice

The Artdog Image of Interest

Do you love time lapse photography? I certainly do. I went looking for a good image to wish you a magical Summer Solstice, for this post. When I stumbled across a time lapse image of the sun rising at Stonehenge on the Summer Solstice, I was delighted. I hope you are, too!

This sequence was taken at Stonehenge, in Wiltshire, UK, in 2018. Just watching the video made me feel a little bit the way I did after the eclipse in 2017 (even though it was cloudy, it was still magical). I can imagine how breathtaking it might be to see the Solstice at Stonehenge in person

Incidentally, the people-watching is pretty interesting, too. 

My Beloved, of course, puts his own spin on Solstices. He traditionally greets the Winter Solstice in shorts, flipflops, sunglasses, and maybe a Hawaiian shirt, to crow about how it’s all going to be warmer and brighter from here on out. Conversely, the Summer Solstice is his cue to bemoan the the fading of the light. “Can’t you feel the chill already?”

However you spend it, I hope your Summer Solstice is warm, bright, wonderful . . . dare I say magical? And ideally, also full of interesting characters.

A design image of a yellow and orange sunrise, with summer prairie plants, butterflies, and grasses in dark orange and dark brown silhouette form the background of this image. across the top and bottom are white letters in a decorative font that read, "Wishing you a magical Summer Solstice."

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to English Heritage, for the marvelous time lapse video taken at Stonehenge on the Solstice in 2018. 

The “Wishing you a magical Summer Solstice” image has a multi-part history. I wasn’t able to find a current website for Avalon Raven Design. According to the invaluable TinEye Reverse Image Search, it began life as a stock vector image in 2008. However it evolved, I hope you enjoy the final image!

Winter’s joy

The Artdog Image of Interest

In honor of the first day of winter . . .

To my friends in the Southern Hemisphere: I don’t wanna hear about it.

IMAGE: Many thanks to Imgflip and Pinterest for this image.

Winter is . . . um, here.

It’s the Winter Solstice, again.

In case you’d like a reminder about some of the Winter Solstice customs, I wrote a rather detailed post about it last year.

IMAGE: Many thanks to Heavy, via Imagur, for this meme.

Preparing: are you?

We all have our own way of confronting (or trying to hide from) the Holidays. 

It’s not ONLY Christmas, of course–although both secular and sacred Christmas imagery and messaging seem to be everywhere in my Kansas City environment. From Festivus to Kwanzaa, from Hanukkah to  Winter Solstice celebrations to Yule, there seems to be a holiday for everybody at this time of year.

Whatever holidays you celebrate, how’s it going? We’re at the mid-point of December. Are you ready?

Perhaps you’re one of those organized, super-prepared people, who’ve been buying a building stockpile of presents since last January. You already have you holiday greeting cards in the mail (or your e-cards pre-loaded to send at just the perfect moment).

Perhaps you’re in the thick of it now–still working on the gift list, still considering your plans. Partway there–getting there–but not done yet. That’s about where I am: working on it. If you’re still looking for creative gift-wrapping ideas, you may find some of my last-December Image-of-Interest posts helpful.

Or maybe you prefer to live dangerously, and save your shopping/decorating/cooking for the last possible second. Good luck, and may the Creative Force be with you, all you last-minute thrill-seekers!

No matter how you celebrate–and no matter which, if any, holidays you celebrate–I hope you find some merriment along the way!

IMAGES: Many thanks to the Explore December Holidays Pinterest Board, for the “paper dolls” image, and the talented and creative Debbi Ridpath Ohi, via The Office, and John Atkinson, via Wrong Hands, for their humorous holiday images.

Get drunk, light a fire, and eat dumplings or fruit! it’s Winter Solstice!

It’s the nadir of the year. The longest night, the shortest day. What’re you gonna do?

What else? Have a party!

That’s apparently been the Winter Solstice solution of choice for cultures all over the Northern Hemisphere since at least Neolithic times.

The famous triple-spiral design incised inside the Newgrange tomb, popularly thought to be Celtic, actually predates the Celts by several thousand years. It bears a striking resemblance to sun symbols seen elsewhere in northern Europe. The opening of the tomb precisely frames the rising sun of Winter Solstice.

Humans have undoubtedly been aware of the Winter Solstice for much longer than 5,000 years, but some of the earliest evidence that they took it seriously can be found at Newgrange, Ireland, where a Neolithic passage tomb that is thought to be at least 5,000 years old is aligned with the rising Winter Solstice sun.

I can’t find any archaeological evidence that those early Irish folk had alcoholic beverages, but it’s fairly likely. Fermentation is a process that happens naturally. Pottery jars discovered at Jiahu in China, that date back as early as 7000 BCE (about 9,000 years old) were found to contain the residue of a fermented beverage made from honey, rice, and hawthorn fruit, so it’s not hard to imagine that other people may also have created fermented drinks, but stored them in less long-lasting containers.

Patrick E. McGovern discovered that these 9,000-year-old pottery jars from Jiahu in China contained the world’s earliest known fermented drink.

Those are two of the four essential ingredients for a universally human Winter Solstice celebration: (1) knowledge that the Winter Solstice is a thing that happens, and (2) alcoholic beverages to drink. The other two are (3) Food for feasting, and (4) fires for warmth and light.

Maria Kvilhaug offers a detailed description of Old Norse Jól, or Yule traditions and cosmology. “The Yule celebration as a whole was often referred to as “drinking jól”, as in “to drink” yule. This descriptive term strongly suggests that drink was an important part of the celebration,” she wrote.

Greek Poseidon (left) and Roman Saturn (right) each were honored by their devotees with several days of drinking and feasting at the Winter Solstice.

The Norse weren’t the only ones who partied hearty on Winter Solstice. The ancient Greeks celebrated the Festival of Poseidon, god of the sea, with several days of drinking and parties. Perhaps better known these days is the Roman Saturnalia, celebrating a different god, but at the same time of year, and in pretty much exactly the same way–with feasting and lots of drinking.

In eastern Asia, the Winter Solstice festival of Dōngzhì focuses more on food than drink, with dumplings served more often in the north and dumpling-like filled rice balls called tangyuan served more often in the south.

Dōngzhì delicacies seem to focus on rice flour wrapped around assorted fillings. The main point: they are all warm and tasty.

The Iranian tradition of Yaldā Night also centers on food, especially red-colored fruits, and sweets. It is a gathering of family and friends to share the last fruits of summer and prepare for the leaner period of winter. The gathering continues until after midnight, the middle part of the year’s longest night, thus seeing themselves through an inauspicious time into a more hopeful period. Another traditional practice is reading or reciting poetry (especially the poetry of Divan-e-Hafez, sometimes used for divination of the future).

Hafez poetry and fruits help carry this Persian lady safely through Yaldā Night.

The fourth ingredient for a quintessential Winter Solstice celebration–especially one in the colder parts of the Northern Hemisphere–is a good, warm bonfire to light up the night and keep bad spirits at bay.

Most of us know about the Yule Log, which was adopted as a Christmas tradition throughout much of northern Europe. This is a large log, sometimes a whole tree, burnt through the course of the Yule season. If there was anything left, it sometimes would be kept to light the following year’s log. 

Large outdoor bonfires were often a feature of Yule, Beltane, midsummer and Halloween, in pre-Christian traditions. More recent festivals have combined the bonfire idea with the even more widespread and popular tradition of the Christmas Tree. After Christmas old, dried-up trees from many households (fire hazards, by that time) are sometimes brought together and burned in a public event.

San Francisco’s Richmond-area “Friends of the Rootless Forest” safely burn discarded Christmas trees on Ocean Beach for their annual “Post-Yule Pyre” event.

IMAGES: 

Many thanks to Knowth.com for the Newgrange tomb image (from a book by Michael and Claire O’Kelly; I couldn’t find a photographer’s credit). 

Many thanks to Patrick E. McGovern, the biomolecular archaeologist who did the analysis of the Jiahu pottery, for both the photo (thanks also to Z. Juzhong and the Henan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology), and for an interesting article about the find.

Many thanks to Gods and Monsters for the image of Poseidon (there’s an informative article at this link, too), and to Antiques.com for the photo of the Carthaginian marble statue of Saturn and the accompanying article about it.

I am indebted to Your Chinese Astrology for the photos of traditional Dōngzhì foods, and the informative article that accompanies them. 

Many thanks to Wikimedia Commons for the photo of the Persian lady reading Hafez while surrounded by fruits on Yalda Night. 

And finally, many thanks to the Richmond District Blog for the bonfire photo by “ampoda” (sorry no link available), and the article about the 2012 event by Sara B

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