This is our very first Solstice living together in Scotland! This is very exciting!
My partner is very traditional about Christmas. He comes from an Irish Catholic background, but was brought up in rural Wales, and to a much larger family than mine. His Christmas vision is that of a family gathering, of traditional foliage and red-green-gold, and his favourite part of the Christmas tradition is the food. To him, Christmas dinner is a gift to the family, the best gift of them all. My partner cooks to share.
I was brought up by my mad-scientist Dad, and after Mother left, Christmas was only ever vaguely traditional in our house and I, a batty Pagan and latterly a Goth, was left in charge of decorating, and had been from an early age (my Dad was a brave, brave man, letting me do the Christmas decorations as a kid. One year I made all the baubles out of K-Nex and tried to build a tree...) so my vision is of a quiet Christmas, outside playing in snow, or at home admiring the tree, with a silver-purple-blue-black and ice, snow, a winter theme and my favourite part of Christmas is decorating the tree and turning the lights on. Christmas was never really a true "family" thing as there was only my Dad and I involved, not the extended family. We were a family of sorts, but it wasn't exactly a gathering. To me, Christmas was a time to be creative, to decorate things and make presents.
These are pretty much opposites, they're even opposite colours, but we're trying to bring them together. There are similarities to our approaches; both of us are Pagan, and my partner had time off on the Solstice, but he is working on Christmas day, so that at least gives us a focus; we both like decorating the tree, we both think it is a brilliant occasion for candles. Together we have made our small but cosy apartment into a festive one.
The Solstice is the shortest day, and is about the changing seasons and the knowledge that the days are going to get longer, and while it might get worse before it gets better, Spring WILL come. One can celebrate a secular Solstice, which is simply a celebration of the celestial patterns and changing seasons, as well as a Pagan one, so if anyone wants a less sarcastic approach to an alternative to Christmas than Festivus, a secular Solstice is a possibility.
In the UK, the Solstice marks midwinter, but apparently in places with a continental climate (the USA, at least, maybe also in mainland Europe) the Solstice is actually considered the start of winter, because although the days are getting longer, there is a lag in the change in actual weather, meaning that the worst is still to come. As you may have noticed from my previous post, Scotland has winter already! We've had a few good coverings of snow, and I have seen the most beautiful sparkling white snow on the mountains. It will probably be worse in January, and maybe early February, but snow started falling in October in a light dust on the mountains, and was definitely around in November, and Samhain (Halloween) definitely makes more sense as the start of Winter here, and Imbolc (Candlemas) as the beginning of Spring. I haven't seen Spring in Scotland yet, but I've seen snowdrops in February when I lived in England. The UK being islands detached from mainland Europe, does not share the same climate as the majority of Europe (from what I remember of Brittany, northern France has a similar one, though) but has a maritime climate, and one also affected by the Gulf Stream.
Most Pagans see the natural world (and broader Universe) as Divine, with varying theologies from pantheism to polytheism, so each Pagan has a different way of seeing it in a religious sense. To me I celebrate the fact that I live in a Universe so wonderfully arranged, by perfect chance, that there are perpetual cycles, an order to existence, and remember that however bad life gets, it eventually does get better. I see the Divine as intrinsic to the Universe, so to me the geometry of the heavens is holy, the cycles of life are holy, the physics that means our universe sustains life is holy, the sun is holy, the moon is holy, the snow is holy, the trees are holy, the mountains are holy, etc. etc. etc. I don't ascribe to any literal interpretation of any mythology, or have an anthropomorphic vision of deity, but in Neo-Pagan mythology (which is basically poetry based on many older mythologies) the Solstice is when the Sun is reborn of the Dark Goddess. For lucky druids this can involve a battle (sometimes literal, staged with swords) between two men, one representing the Holly King and the other the Oak King.
Ah, Paganism, we have a festival of death (Samhain/Halloween) a festival of sex and fire (Beltane/May Day) and a festival where we get to have sword fights if we're Druids - we're so Metal :P
As the Solstice is a celebration of returning light, we're having a fiery solar theme to our celebrations. Borrowing from a Chinese New Year tradition, and adapting it for the solar new year, we're going to light a sky-lantern, and we're going to paint our wishes for the coming year on it first. We've bought a completely bio-degradable lantern with a bamboo frame because the paper disintegrates pretty quickly and if the metal-framed ones land on farm land, the metal-frames can pose a danger to livestock and wildlife. I don't want to honour the changes in nature by doing something that's going to harm nature. It's obviously important not to let them off near airports (I think we're far enough from the city airport) and and power-lines. They seem to be quite popular in the West now, and I think they're brilliant. I always find it quite moving to watch them float away until they're invisible, getting tinier and tinier as they go. The winds were actually too high to launch our lantern, so that will have to wait until it is calmer out, but we will launch it with our wishes!
We've got lots of solar themed decorations, including a sun topping our tree. The "sun" is actually a gold and orange 'star' with many points and a circular design, but as out sun IS a star, astronomically speaking, that is fine by me. I picked it up in Pound Stretcher reduced down to 99p. I thought that was a real bargain, cheaper than making one, which was my original idea. The round sun mirror is one I bought in a charity shop really cheaply a couple of years ago, but the gilt on the edges of the flames really catch the light and as we live in quite a small flat, it is nice to have a mirror, it makes the space feel a small bit lighter. Our living room has a a reasonable size window, but daylight is scarce at this time of the year, so the mirror's main duty is reflecting the candles and lights back into the room. The jar candles are really useful, but I can't remember where I bought them, I think Cargo in Henley-on-Thames. They were originally lanterns, but I took the wire loops off and have been using them ever since. I've taken them on night-time candle-lit picnics, I've had them light up home-made oriental dinners, and now I've got them lighting up my Solstice decor. Those jars carry lots of warm, romantic memories of lovely evenings with my partner, so it is quite important to me to have them up at this time of the year. The sun candle-holder is being lit by a tea-light in another, horizontal candle-holder. The tea-light holder was a gift from my wonderful friend Dawn, back when I was still at school, and the vertical sun candle-stick is one I've had so long that I have forgotten where I got it from, but my guess is going to be a charity shop. I got back in touch with Dawn a couple of years ago, and we're pen pals/internet friends now. She has a blog about being a writer.
|Solstice Decor (Photographs by the ::Other Half::, editing by me)|
|The "Gothmas" Tree (Photographed by The HouseCat)|
|Solstice Tree (Photographed by the ::Other Half::)|
The red drop bauble was painted by myself, with nail-polish. The fixing at the top where the string goes through is also painted green, and the bottom tip is dipped in green. I did 12 of these in total. I use nail-polish because it is durable and gives a good metallic finish and I have it in the house anyway, so don't have to go out and buy paint especially. I like painting things somewhere between tribal patterns and canal-boat brush-stroke designs. I did these the same way as I did the baubles on my goth tree. Re-painting cheap baubles is a good way of having unique baubles.
|Solstice Tree (Photographs by the ::Other Half::)|
In our living room we don't have much counter space, and having no fire, no mantlepiece to hang stockings or cards on, so I have strung the cards up above two door-frames, and currently two strands of cotton thread, adding more as we get more cards. I decided it would save space and if I just doubled up the thread, putting another string below the first, rather than put more across the room. It's a corner of the room between the boiler cupboard door and the hallway door, so it's not a very used area, and so we're not likely to catch our heads on the cards. Talking of cards, cards from previous years with the pictures cut out make cheap and green gift tags. If it's a scenic card, you can cut several small sections of the scene for quite a few tags from one card.
I'd really like to see pictures of other people's Christmas, Solstice, Hannukah, etc. decorations, especially that of other goths. Has anyone else got a "gothmas tree"? Have you put your decorations up yet? What are your family traditions for this time of year? Does anyone celebrate a religious Christian Christmas? Does anyone else celebrate a Pagan Solstice? Please comment and tell me what you'll be doing, even if you're completely un-festive and just want peace and quiet. I can empathise with being un-festive, after working in retail several Christmases running, finding Christmas a miserable time of the year for past family reasons, and generally being grouchy, I ended up with a black Santa hat with "Bah Humbug" embroidered on its fluffy white brim, and mutating into the unholy product of Scrooge and the Grinch, but my partner seems to have cured this. What music will you be playing this Christmas? Until I was 20 I was heavily involved in church and cathedral choirs, and still love the traditional carols and anthems. Please do comment!
Bane, at Goth It Yourself, the Gothic home decor and project blog, has some really lovely pictures of her ::snowy solstice::. It wasn't snowy here in the Highlands - our lovely snow got washed away a few days ago.