Thursday, December 18, 2008
Winter Holiday Traditions
Traditions hold a special spot in human culture, and I think they’re especially important in the winter, when daylight is scarce, and here in Wisconsin snow is plentiful. The thermometer keeps dipping down below zero this week, and my car makes an unhappy rawrrrrr, rawrrrr, rawrrr sound when I start it on cold days just to tease me a little and make me think it might refuse to get it’s little Honda butt in gear for me.
At least we’re lucky enough to live in an age of insulated homes and central heating systems (right at the top of my “to be grateful for” list lately!), but the dark half of the year is still a challenge. More so with the economy so rocky. In the dark of winter, holidays bring light, color, and joy. Time honored traditions give us something familiar to cherish, a touch of comfort in the cold.
My family celebrates Yule on the winter solstice. Sometime in early December, we cut small branches from the cedars in our backyard and fill glass vases with the vivid evergreens. Then we cut a bundle of bright red dogwood branches and put them in a large ceramic jug of water. The girls hang a collection of carved wooden birds on the branches, some of which we’ve had since before our teens were born. Next, they attach red silk flowers and red feathered cardinals, until the branches are filled with color.
We exchange the first gifts of the season on Yule, and then another each day until we’ve worked our way through the pile. Our family keeps gifts simple, and the girls often give us things they’ve made themselves. The other night, I was sorting through a drawer and I found a present from Solstice past--a little creature made out of pom-poms and glued-on eyes nestled into a yellow and white woven bed created with a potholder loom. I’m not sure which daughter made that particular gift, but she couldn’t have been more than five at the time, and it was delightful finding it now that they’re thirteen and fifteen.
Another solstice tradition in our family is that we put food out for the animals. We make sure the birdfeeders are brimming full, and the girls cut up fruit and vegetables to put out for the small critters that populate our yard. Dried feed corn cobs are another favorite treat for the bunnies and squirrels, though we can only put those out in the front yard so our goofy poodle doesn’t eat them. If it’s not too cold, we all go outside to look at the moon after dark while the girls put out food for the animals.
As with any celebration, food plays a central role. We have a big feast on Yule, and some foods--nuts to crack, clementines, fresh cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, mulled or sparkling cider, homemade pumpkin or apple pie, and either homemade cookies or scones--appear every year, and others vary. After the meal, we hold our Yule circle ritual, a time for spiritual introspection and a welcoming of the return of the light, since each day following the solstice will be a bit longer, and each night a bit shorter.
In a tradition unique to our family, we hold a Winterfest celebration several days after the solstice. Each year we pick a different food theme for a fun family meal. This year’s theme is Mexican food. Last year, the girls cooked the entire Winterfest meal, and we had six different kinds of pancakes. I’m not kidding--blueberry, banana, chocolate chip, plain, cinnamon sugar, and apple pancakes. The event provoked a great deal of laughter as we watched the teenage chefs scurry around in their red aprons concocting different batters and sprinkling the kitchen liberally with flour and globs of wet pancake goo. In addition to the feast, we decorate the table in keeping with the meal theme, listen to music, and watch a movie together in the evening.
Our winter holiday traditions help knit the family together, and give us something to look forward to when we’re cooped up indoors fighting cabin fever. What are some of your family’s most treasured winter traditions?