My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

The Gothic subculture is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, and looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Tim Burton, Siouxsie Sioux and Anne Rice et al.) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. Goth should not be limited by what is considered "goth", inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Solstice, Christmas and Decorations

This is a blog, with lots of pictures,about how my partner and I have decorated our apartment for the season. I'm going to do a separate blog about the food. That blog will hopefully also have lots of pictures.

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)
In order for me to satiate my desire to have a few festive trimmings in Gothic style, I have a second Christmas tree. This tree is has no warm reds, no gold at all, and lots of black and silver. It is synthetic, only three feet tall, and the tree itself is black. Hanging on its boughs are purple, silver and black baubles, a silver bead chain, and purple star-shaped battery LED lights. I painted my own designs, in metallic purple and silver nail-polish, on the larger black gloss baubles. I am on a budget, so my baubles were from Poundland, Pound Stretcher and Tesco, and the tree itself, as well as the bead-chain and lights, were also from Tesco. The tree was £5 and I spent about £12 in total on decorations for it, most of that spent on the lights. The lights I am planning to use after Christmas as decor for our room, as it is in a purple, black and silver theme, and I like fairy-lights. I found some real glass mini-baubles (the perfect size for such a small tree!) in Pound Stretcher for £1.99, and they had lots of nice budget baubles. If I were rich, I would only have glass baubles and wooden ornaments, but I am unemployed and we're not a wealthy household, so I have mostly plastic baubles and am slowly (very slowly) accumulating better quality baubles. Not all the baubles are yet as I would like; the small glittery purple baubles from Tesco, for example, are a little too close to pink for my liking, while the metallic ones from the same tub are a much cooler shade. £17 is quite a large chunk of my budget, but as this is all from scratch, and will be used for years and years from now, hopefully a recurring Yuletide feature of my gothic boudoir (well, attempted boudoir), I don't mind it so much, especially as a large chunk of that is on the lights, which will be used year-round until the bulbs go, and as they are LEDs, that might take a while.
The "Gothmas" Tree (Photographed by The HouseCat)
On the main tree are some rather fancy black decorations, in onion and teardrop shapes, but these will also be turned into house decorations after Christmas. I am planning on tying them into two matching bunches with some broad black ribbon and tying them at either end of the curtain pole in our room. I also bought some beautiful LV lights from Tesco, which are just white, but each bulb has a punched metal orb around it, and these were only £6, so a real bargain. The other half, being a little bit taller than me, strung them up around the curtain pole in our room, and I think they look rather nice. If I buy something a bit dearer, I want it to have a life that's more than just for Christmas time. I know at £1.50 each, the baubles might not be considered that dear to some, but I'm on quite a limited budget. Anyway, the baubles look more expensive than they are, and I think combined with some broad ribbon and possibly a few beaded details that they would add a bit of classy fanciness to our bedroom rather than look like tacky Christmas decorations at the wrong time of the year. Once I've actually got everything done in our bedroom, I will take pictures of the new lights and the curtain-pole decorations made from baubles.

In our living room we have the seasonal spectacular itself, the Solstice Tree. As you can see on the full length picture, our tree is over six feet and festooned with baubles. The tree is always my favourite part of the seasonal festivities, and has been since the Christmas trees of my childhood. I absolutely adore decorating the tree and try my best to keep it up as long as possible. My partner wanted a more traditional colour scheme, and I did my best not to drown the tree in black baubles (my favourite sort of baubles ;-) ). The Other Half kept jesting that I'd not be able to get ALL the baubles onto the tree, but lo, I managed it.

Solstice Tree (Photographed by the ::Other Half::)
The pine-cones are my partner's favourite decoration on the tree. I've got to admit these ones my partner bought, but it's easy enough to make them if you find some suitable sized pine cones, spray them/paint them gold (I prefer paint to spray; no aerosol) and then tie some gold ribbon around the top. Next year, if I am less stressed and busy, I shall make some extra special pine-cones for the tree. The clear baubles with snowflakes on are my favourite not-black baubles and they used to hang on my Dad's tree. They remind me of home. My Dad sent me a box of baubles from home, and it is nice having a few things on the tree to remind me of Dad. I used to have more clear snowflake baubles, but Kuro, my cat, knocked the entire tree over last year and a few baubles met a premature demise.My partner really likes the red baubles, and I bought him some gold lantern baubles, to him the tree should be warm, in colours and in light.

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.

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