Wanderings through life, landscapes, and occasional loopiness. So pull up a log and have a bit of a sit-down ’round the virtual campfire.

A Thousand Points of Light

“We three queens with Oreos are…trying to find…an open bar…”

Ah, Christmas. And all it entails. My dad makes up his own lyrics this time of year to offset the constant cacophony of Christmas music that we’re all inundated with. No matter where we go, there we are, standing in line somewhere. Hanging out in the bathroom somewhere else. Ordering lunch. Walking past a store. And there it is. The music. The genial choruses of “fa la la la la” echoing in our over-stimulated brains, following us even into Starbucks, where we try to find solace in a peppermint mocha caramel macchi-thingie express train to hell and the gym and three miles on the treadmill.

All right, I’ll own it. I’m not a big fan of this time of year. I’ve tried to find meaning in the mayhem and tried not to get caught up in the rampant commercialism that it seems to encompass these days. I’ve tried not to sing along to the traditional Christmas music that, like a webstream, is constant white noise no matter where I go or what I do, from Thanksgiving (and I have a whole OTHER take on that) through New Year’s. And I’ve tried to even come to terms with this curmudgeonly side of myself, though I remain largely unsuccessful. I’ve done Christmas, Hanukkah, and last year I tried Kwanzaa, which I rather liked for the principles it espouses. This year I’ve decided to go with Solstice, which speaks to certain little primal parts of my soul.

Solstice has its roots in the misty and often mystic vagaries of humans’ shared pasts. Scientifically (for those so inclined), it marks the shortest day of the year, when the sun is at its lowest arc in the sky. The northern hemisphere is thus tilted farthest away from the sun, which creates these conditions. You’ll find that most if not all human cultures in the northern hemisphere have had some kind of connection with and recognition of the winter solstice, which happens in December. This year it’s the 21st or the 22nd, depending on your time zone. I like the premise of Solstice, which is to recognize and tap into the whole idea of cycles, which is how things seem to work in many ways. Life itself is a cycle. Seasons are cycles. Night and day. Dawn and dusk. Birth to death. Cycles. I like that because it IS so fundamental to who we are and the world we inhabit, that there really are no “endings” in a linear sense. Just things to mark cycles. Like Solstice.

I’m sure there are certain songs and chants and rituals that different cultures perform(ed) and engaged in when doing the Solstice thing. I don’t have any of my own yet, so I instead contemplate the movement of the sun’s rays as this planet circles and tilts and goes through its cycles. I like the feeling of connection that comes with thinking about me on this planet, about me and billions of other people going through our lives and many of us stopping to think about renewal and rejuvenation. Those seem like appropriate thoughts to have at the close of a year–an arbitrary designation that coincides with the natural rhythms of planet and place.

Which brings me right back to Christmas. I know that some of you really dig this time of year and I think that’s great. But there are a few of us who don’t, and who would much prefer to hibernate or spend time alone or with a few select people. However, most of us feel plied with obligations that we aren’t necessarily privy to and they become stamped with the weight of “tradition” so we go through the motions, thinking that this is how “the holidays” are supposed to be. And if you’re one of those people like me who doesn’t need Christmas to remind me to tell people I appreciate them or to give a gift, then this time of year can seem awfully crass and awash in gleaming superficiality. But every once in a while, I’ll have a Christmas that really does speak to what I envision the season to be: a time of contemplation and genuine connection, either with yourself or people who you really do care about and who care about you. I had two of those a few years back in Albuquerque. I spent Christmas Eve alone wandering the Old Town Plaza, which was fired by those wonderful “candle in a bag” lights that most people refer to as “luminarias” though which technically are “farolitos” (little lights).

luminarias

These appear all over New Mexico Christmas Eve and thousands of people walk through neighborhoods to see them, laughing and talking with each other and with strangers. Old Town merchants set up tables where they sell tamales, empanadas, bizcochitos, coffee, tea, and hot cocoa so you can eat and drink and get all caught up in the magical feel that the farolitos convey. The city is quiet on Christmas Eve because people begin preparing the farolitos that afternoon and evening, so they’re too busy to drive. As dusk descends, people light up the candles inside the paper bags (the candles rest on beds of sand therein) until you have runways of these tiny, muted lights lining streets, sidewalks, driveways, the tops of walls.

luminarias

It’s the best thing ever. And the Christmas Eves I spent wandering through Old Town and through neighborhoods–often, residents opened their garages or homes or had hot beverages out for people to enjoy–were the best holidays I spent. No pressure, no running around. Just out walking and enjoying my own company and the company of strangers. Which is why I think Solstice might be the way for me to go this time of year. And maybe there’s a message there for all of us. Chill a bit, huh? Remember who you are and where you’ve come from; think of those who maybe can’t be home for the holidays; think of those who can’t think beyond anything but where the next meal might come from; and think, too, of the other denizens who share this planet with you who might not be human. And try this: get yourself 10 brown paper bags and put about a half-inch of dirt, sand, or kitty litter (not used…) in the bottom. Set them up somewhere. Along a windowsill. Your driveway. Your patio or balcony, maybe. Then put a votive candle in each. Farolitos work best when you fold the tops of the bags over about an inch. Fire up the candles when it’s dark. Get yourself a hot beverage and some friends and get caught up with life. Relax and renew. Who knows? Maybe next year you’ll be celebrating solstice, too.

Thanks for wandering in.

Check your candles and

keep it real, yo.

A Thousand Points of Light

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