posts tagged with 'solstice'

winter solstice reading

For our solstice party, and for our family reading in general, I went looking in the library for a good topical picture book. You know, there are tons of books about Christmas—you can read about Christmas from every possible perspective—but not so much the winter solstice. Last year we read The Winter Solstice, by Ellen Jackson, which is a fine book... but not a story particularly. Nor is it particularly poetic, which seems like a shame given the poetry natural to the season. But this year, when I checked in with Ms. Elaine at the Children's desk she was delighted to offer me a brand new book, which hadn't even made it to the shelves yet: The Shortest Day.

It's by Susan Cooper, the author of the "Dark Is Rising" series, and illustrated by Carson Ellis, and it's fantastic. Cooper's poetry doesn't come from careful word choice but from connecting with the power of the season, which is just what I was looking for a ceremonial read-aloud. And Ellis's watercolor illustrations are a great mix of down-to-earth realism and mythic fantasy—they made me think of a modern children's book version of William Blake. (She's also the author of a pair of picture books that I recommend highly: Du Iz Tak? and Home.)

Of course, I'd love it if some other good writers stepped up to tackle solstice stories. I mean, the magic! As it is, though, the people who care enough aren't very good writers and don't have access to real editors—there's a self-published book about the eight quarter and cross-quarter days at the library, but it's cringeingly awful. But at least now there's one winter solstice book. Maybe I'll buy it for next year.

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the turning of the year

Our holiday season began back on December 19, when we hosted a solstice party for our homeschool coop friends. A little early, sure, but with the month's schedule full of events we needed to get it in when we could. And if you ask me it was a good day to do it since it was the coldest day of the winter so far (and since)—though some of the guests questioned why the first half of the gathering was a walk in the woods. I said that was the way to experience the dying of the year. Plus, it made our fire all the more welcome!

kids around a fire

warmth in the cold

With the fire roaring I read everybody a solstice story, and then most of the kids ran inside as quick as they could and played in the warm house the rest of the time. That's fine, playing inside is also a traditional midwinter activity—moreso that marshmallows, probably, which is the only thing that kept any of the kids outside.

On the solstice proper we attended a wonderful caroling party bursting with Christmastime cheer and lots of good food (I was also bursting by the time we headed home!). We were among the first to arrive and also the first to depart, due to Lijah's tiredness; but that was fine because it left the rest of us, who did not fall asleep in the car, plenty of time to have our real solstice fire, the one in the actual dark. I promised the boys that they could stay up and keep the fire going all night or for fifteen minutes, whichever came first. As much as we all wanted to stay out longer, that was about right.

Harvey and Zion by the fire at night

solstice night

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solstice on the river

The solstice this year was busy with celebrations: our community group's little party Harvey on Friday evening, two big parties for friends Saturday, and an end-of-the-year picnic at Church mid-day Sunday. Luckily, the Town of Concord scheduled solstice festivities for Sunday afternoon starting at one, so by hurrying we were able to get to the Old North Bridge in time to see mid-summer greeted in style!

our boat below the Old North Bridge, it covered with singers and bubbles

midsummer spectacle

Besides the solstice, we were also celebrating the Concord River and its tributaries, so the party was called Riverfest. It's happened for a few years now, but this is the first time we managed to make it—and now that we did, I'm sorry to have missed it before! So many fun things there. We started off making some art; Harvey was feeling grumpy, but the woman running the art table was so energetic and encouraging she drew him out of his funk, and once launched he worked on his project for quite a while. Lijah doesn't have patience for long-term projects, and after a few minutes he decided he wanted to get his face painted. I was amazed and proud to see him handle the whole thing, from standing in line to telling the young woman what he wanted to be (a white bunny) all by himself! The transformation was startling.

Lijah in white rabbit facepaint

yikes!

Next we listened to (and participated in!) some river-themed kids music. When that wrapped up we went for a little canoe trip downstream... but not very far downstream, because the current was running fast and we didn't want to work too hard on the way back! It felt very companionable with dozens of boats out on the river. Most of them weren't even taking any part in Riverfest, but that didn't mean they were enjoying the river any less! When we got back to the bridge the boys all went for a swim—even Harvey, who chose not to bring a swimsuit along on the trip. Never mind, the sun was hot!

the boys swimming in the Concord River, beyond the canoe

the only cool place

Then it was time for the most exciting part of the afternoon, the cardboard boat race. As tempted as I was to sign us up as participants, I though it would be more prudent to watch one year before jumping right in. So we spent a relaxing hour wandering among the busy teams of cardboard crafters and eating snacks. I think we learned some things about what it takes to get cardboard to float. As the race itself kicked off, we certainly witnessed plenty of examples of what not to do!

young people launching and sinking cardboard boats

is that what's supposed to happen?

As we talked about the festival in the days leading up to the solstice Mama decided that, all in all, it sounded like a little much to her. But as dinner time approached things were pretty calm, so I invited her to join us for dinner (plus, she could bring Harvey some dry clothes!). Some friends showed up just a little later, so the nine of us shared a peaceful picnic while listening to some lovely bluegrass/country/oldies played by an acoustic trio. Well, it was peaceful for the adults and Harvey... the four smaller boys entered into some freewheeling—and occasionally violent!—play with the other young picnickers.

the boys and other kids playing around a big rock

they all still have energy left!

As it started to get dark, the festival organizers started up a fire. While it wasn't totally the solstice bonfire I'd been anticipating, it was plenty big enough to toast the marshmallows they'd thoughtfully provided for smores. The boys wished there was enough to have more than one, but it was a pretty good-sized crowd.

Lijah eating a smore in smoke and sparks

fresh from the fire

The day concluded with a solstice singalong on the Old North Bridge, while those of us with boats paddled around beneath with candle lanterns glowing. Plus the bubble guy was there to make the atmosphere even more magical. What do you sing at a solstice singalong in Concord, MA? Some Beatles, a couple tunes from Hair, "This Land is Your Land"... stuff like that. As it got dark at last you could even start to see the lanterns.

singers on the Old North Bridge at twilight

singing in summer

Then we turned for home. The boys have fallen asleep in the car lots of times; this was the first time they ever did in the boat. We celebrated the heck out of that solstice!

the kids lying down in the canoe

shh!

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solstice tide

On Thursday we spent lots of time outside, enjoying in the beautiful weather: clear, dry, seasonably bracing but not frigid. As the boys helped me split wood we talked about how much we would need for the Solstice fire, and about how much fun it would be. Then yesterday the temperature shot up into the mid 60s and it rained all day. No fire; we had to content ourselves with lighting candles at the dinner table and sharing thoughts about the turning of the year. This afternoon everyone was busy with their own things—and I needed some time to myself—so I headed out to do a fire myself. Everything was still pretty soaked, so it was good and smoky and an interesting challenge to get going. Then I watched it for a bit and thought about new beginnings.

We studied historical solstice celebrations some earlier this month (to the extent that we could; the library isn't exactly full of appropriate materials). The picture book we read talked about how midwinter was a scary time for the ancients, not knowing if the sun was ever going to return. We thought that was silly: wouldn't anyone old enough to formulate that question have lived through enough cycles to start to see a pattern?! Let's not sell our ancestors short. But there's no doubt that midwinter is magical moment, full of mystery and promise. All the more so when it coincides with a full moon, like it did this year. I've had a tough time of it over the past year. Watching the fire this evening I have hope that something might be changing.

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midsummer

We don't celebrate the summer solstice as much as we do some other astronomical moments, because Harvey's birthday is at the same time. But we're totally enjoying this midsummer thing nevertheless. The best part is of course all the evening light—so much to play outside for a couple hours after supper. The strawberries are good too. I'm hoping to get the jam done tomorrow. One disappointing thing though: today was the first weekday of summer vacation for the schoolkids here in town, and our boys were really looking forward to playing with their friends all day. But none of them were around—two families on vacation already, and one all jammed up with activities. We didn't do any activities; just read books, rode bikes, weeded, and went to the library.

No, that's not quite true... there was a little more than that. Last summer our complete formlessness was a little trying at times, so I'm trying to hold on to a bit of a schedule even as the weather calls us to wild outdoor adventures (and to lying around on the hammock...). After breakfast we spent some time thinking about how stories are structured, and then Harvey and Zion did some writing/dictating of their own accounts of playing in the rain yesterday. It was fun, and it made the rest of the delightfully relaxing day all the sweeter. A good start to the season; let's keep it going tomorrow!

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welcome yule

After years of failing to get organized, we finally managed to celebrate the solstice in proper style today. Not that we have any connection to traditional observations... but we're sure that to do the thing properly you need greenery and fire.

the boys posing behind our

solstice bonfire

We started out by making some wreaths using the evergreens in our yard. We ended up with two, one I made myself to try out the theory, and one that Harvey helped me on.

Harvey standing by the wreath-making tables

wreath factory

Don't let Harvey's outfit fool you—it was actually pretty cold out this afternoon! Our hands were numb with the mitten-less fine work required. Maybe I should have set up inside; but since I'd never done this before I wanted to be close to the supply of greenery so we could cut as needed. We used mostly hemlock, with some holly and andromeda for decoration, and held together with wire and ribbon. I'm pretty pleased with how they came out!

our second wreath, with Lijah's feet for scale

the finished product

After studying candles pretty intensively on Monday the boys were pretty blasé about lighting our wreath, and we didn't know any songs to sing... but it was still pretty cheery looking on a winter afternoon (and it had plenty of room on our new giant kitchen table!).

the boys making unethusiastic faces with our lit solstice wreath

lit up

Then we went back outside to light the "bonfire" with one of the candles. We had to go out just after dark, so we couldn't make it too big, and we weren't able to wait til sunset like I would have liked. But we had all the time we needed to sit around the blaze, listen to the firework sounds from fresh hemlock boughs burning, and hope the sun would come back this year. A good solstice... now on to Christmas!

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