for 22 December 2022
The day after the year’s longest night…
In the northern traditions where Yule is rooted, this is the time of year to think on the ancestors, particularly the Mothers, those who grew and passed on the wisdom of life. I thought today might be a good day to show gratitude toward my Mothers. They are not all mothers. They are not all human. But they all shaped me and for that I am thankful.
From mathematics, I learned that the universe is elegantly simple and where this is not true in our theories, we are wrong.
From geology, I learned humility and scale.
From E.F. Schumacher, I learned to apply that scale to daily life.
From Stephen Jay Gould, I learned that life is more amazing that we can imagine.
From Carl Sagan, I learned that we can imagine quite a lot.
From Stanislaw Lem, I learned that imagination is not solely in the minds of humans.
From Ursula K. Le Guin, I learned to think with other minds.
From Ellen Meloy, I learned to find the wild essence and fierce grace in all things.
From Jane Austen, I leaned to seek the kindly souls at the edges.
From Alexander Borodin, I learned to hear the voice of the wind.
From Josquin des Prez, I learned to sing with the world’s spirit.
From Rumi and Basho, I learned to dance.
From Ólafur Arnalds, I learned to understand the language of winter.
From Jamaica Kincaid, I learned to look to the spring.
From David Fleming and Mikhail Bakhtin, I leaned that carnival is the key to society.
From Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente, I learned the cyclical structure of the celebratory year.
From Thomas Merton, I learned that spirit lives in equanimity.
From Adrienne Rich, I learned that spirit is grounded and real.
From Keith Basso and Richard Powers, I learned where wisdom lives.
From Wendell Berry, I learned that love is embedded in place.
From New Mexico, I learned what place means.
From Aaron Copland and Igor Stravinsky, I learned to sing the ordinary.
From Mahler, Bach and Beethoven, I learned to listen for the majesty.
From Starhawk, I learned to embrace change and balance as the central pillars of existence.
From Barbara Kingsolver and Louise Erdrich, I learned to flexibly ride the changes.
From adrienne maree brown, I learned to be composed in the interstices.
From Wes Jackson, I learned to joyfully embrace the challenges and fix what you can.
From Bill Mollison, I learned to look for connections and leverage points.
From history, I learned to always look for other answers in hidden corners.
From David Graeber, I learned to distrust hierarchy and all its repercussions.
From Charles Dickens, I learned to see the outstretched hands.
From Ivan Illych, I learned to value the real and the solid.
From John Michael Greer, I learned that praxis outshines any theoretical belief.
From Sheri Tepper and Margaret Atwood, I learned to see the future.
From Rebecca Solnit, I learned to quietly laugh at the present and find hope in that laughter.
From my grandfather, I learned gentle solidity and dependability.
From my dad, I learned to conserve all that is good and pare away what is wasteful.
From my mom, I learned that care work is the very definition of love.
From my grandmother, I learned to love this life and revel in it.
From my sons, I learned that life and love will always find a way.
Where do you find your Mothers? And have you thanked them?*
It is the end of the inward-turning, contracting part of the year. We have passed the middle of winter and the deepest darkness. From this morning forward, we are facing the spring even through the worst of the cold and snow. The light is growing again.
Today, most folks are eagerly preparing for Christmas and Kwanzaa or celebrating Hanukkah. (Or they would be if they weren’t enduring one of the worst winter storms on record… yet again…) Some pagans observe all these holidays. Paganism being at its core a daily round of carnival, we tend to take anything at all as a reason to celebrate. In any case, our holidays are not single days, but seasons. There may be a core thing that happens at some specific time — for example, yesterday at 4:48pm the sun turned north again — but since our celebrations are tied to the natural world and not dates of anthropological or historical significance, the holidays are much more fluid and of longer duration. We honor and keep Yuletide, the moon of Midwinter. And this season shades into the next season; this month blends into the next. In our calendar all days are recognized as holy-days. As they should be! Every single day you exist in this life is a miracle, after all.
So our holidays never end. (Isn’t that a persuasive argument in the hands of the odd proselytizing witch… which, ok, that’s not a thing… but if it were, pagan preaching would be a lot more attractive than “you’re going to hell if you don’t listen to me”…) My family is typical. I usually have a private ritual on the morning after the solstice, focusing on gestation and beginnings in darkness. The light of a candle that grows to a blazing inferno in the next six months and then dwindles again to candlelight. I thank those who have made all this to be and look toward what I will add to the web of life in the coming months. Then I let myself be swept up in the symbolism, music and energy of Christmas and the secular New Year. I focus on community — the gathering together, the generosity, the innocent joys of cookie baking and caroling — and the aspects of the holiday that Christianity absorbed from older cultures (including, it must be said, that central notion of the occluded birth of a child savior). There were presents when the boys were young. There still are sometimes. But that’s not a priority. For us, food is the central pillar of Midwinter.
So today, I am beginning the preparations for Christmas. On Christmas Eve there will be pumpkin and cheese tamales served with posole, all stuffed with green chile and seasoned with cumin, fenugreek and lime. For Christmas dinner, there will be black beans and winter squash and potatoes and a vat of green chile cranberry sauce to pour over everything. Probably a cabbage and cheese soup. Definitely pie with the apples and blueberries I froze during the harvest months. I’m baking saffron rolls because I feel that any excuse to eat saffron is reasonable. I also like stuffing. Not cooked in a turkey, but as a savory bread pudding. Mine typically contains garlic, onions, chiles, nuts and dried fruits and usually a good deal of allspice, thyme and sage. I’m making a green chile hummus with tahini and sumac for munchies. I am also roasting a bird, a locally raised domestic turkey. I wanted to have something for my neighbors who are not even remotely vegetarian and will likely be flummoxed by black beans at Christmas. But this means I’ll have a carcass for soup stock, which I do eat. In fact, I used the last frozen pint from 2021 in October, so that part of the holiday truly lasts the year through.
On St Stephen’s Day this year, I will probably put away most of the Christmas Day stuff along with my annual ritual of marking up the calendar for the coming year. I have to work on the 27th… and we’re doing inventory that must be completed before school starts again. Because I work for actual Scrooges… So I’m going to make the switch to late winter sooner than I normally would do. Colors will become white, blue and purple. St Nick will go away and candles will come out. The greens and grains will be composted or wrapped in tissue and packed in plastic tubs for next year. It’s bad luck to have greens in the house after 12th Night, but I often keep my outdoor evergreen wreaths and planter arrangements up until almost Candlemas.
See? All this is forward looking and yet rooted in the past and centered on daily tasks. I think this is how one stays sane in this world of flux. And sometimes real terror. In any case, I am doing things that keep my hands busy and my mind focused while the storms rage outside. And I’m doing my best to not contribute to those increasingly unnerving storms. That’s really all you can do.
Be thankful! And be merry! And look toward the growing light!
*Inevitably whenever one makes lists such as this there are those forgotten. This time there are two that are just too formative to let that forgetting slide: Gary Snyder, who taught me how to define my place, and Amitav Ghosh, who taught me to viscerally feel this world and our history.
©Elizabeth Anker 2022