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The Meaning of Solstivus: The Traditional Winter Celebration

Arg shivered as he finished the last of the boiled weasel skin he brought for his lunch. His daily hunt had taken him to the end of the Tall Deer creek-bed. No luck, so far, no game at all. He turned back down the valley, not looking forward to his evening meal of the rotting wolverine meat in the bottom of the cellar. His wife Erg and the kids would be disappointed to have no new game. He knew she would probably just sink deeper into her despair. The snowfalls and increasing darkness each day had left her unable to cope. She kept the kids in the hut with her under the furs. She spoke of slow death and hopelessness. They were all getting thin and weak. But every day it seemed he still felt a core sense of hope. He felt optimistic and self-confident. As he trudged on, he had time to worry and think. He wondered, was he being irrational? Should he continue to hope? He wanted a sign; no, he yearned for a sign. He had heard from other hunters that the river village folk were preparing for some winter celebration, but why? He decided to visit Wiseguy, the village elder, to seek answers. He wondered what the Solstivus celebration was all about. Wiseguy revealed to Arg the meaning of Solstivus.

Solstivus is one name given to the annual winter gathering. All tribes have evolved a traditional mid-winter holiday or celebration, and for good reason. Solstivus is a celebration of life. It is the occasion when we are reminded of the reliable rhythms of nature and life.

The earth and all life on earth move through cycles of birth, growth, decline, and rebirth. All persons can see that this is so. Just as each day begins with a dawning of the sun and ends with darkness, so each year begins with increasing daily sunlight, which peaks in summer, and then declines again to a winter low point. All plants and animals (including humans) also follow the same earth cycle. Animals hibernate in the winter and reactivate as spring returns. A person's life likewise follows a similar cycle; childhood, adulthood, then death. Each individual is like a link in a chain that appears to extend infinitely backward and forward; the Chain of Life. Humans have self-awareness, an ability that makes them aware of and fearful of their vulnerability. As each winter intensifies and survival becomes a challenge, humans are prone to doubt that things can improve. They doubt that the cycles of life will continue.

For earth, the low point of the year, for the northern hemisphere, when the sun and its nourishing power is at its lowest point in the sky, is called the Solstice. The solstice event provides visceral proof of the renewal of the cycle; people can see for themselves that the sun is indeed returning (or rising) day by day in the sky. The solstice is the single most auspicious celestial event each year, and so it is the most natural candidate for a day for recognition of the cyclical nature of everything. With the physical proof of the continuation of the earth cycle comes a realization that things start to inevitably improve, generally speaking. Doubts about the continuation of the chain are alleviated. One feels that he has survived another low point, that he has achieved a victory over darkness (both literally and figuratively). The predominant emotion is relief, and this feeling gives rise to a collective celebration, to share the recognition. The people call this celebration Solstivus.

The people gather at Solstivus to celebrate the renewal of life. They express common recurring emotions, or themes, including expectations for increasing vitality, renewal and hope - the essences of life. The celebration of life is heralded by light, the sun's increasing light, and so Solstivus is symbolized by light, mostly the light of candles burning resolutely in the darkness. Over and over again the people feel an urge to surround themselves with symbols of life and to decorate their homes with recurring color schemes. For example, evergreen trees, boughs or plants (ex. holly, mistletoe) are gathered, because they literally show life-like green color even when other plants are brown and barren. Things colored green are gathered, because living plants have green foliage. Things colored red are also gathered, because people associate red with the power of the sun and fire. Things colored white are also gathered, because most feel that white best symbolizes the purity of birth, rebirth or renewal. Some people place lots of candles (lights) around and in their homes.

Solstivus has always naturally engendered certain recurring behaviors in different tribes of people. To express their renewed hope, many will typically hold a feast, to demonstrate their confidence that more food will become available. To express their appreciation and sense of generosity/charity, many will give gifts. To express their relief, many will seek to re-connect with friends and family; singing often breaks out at gatherings. To express their sense of good fortune to have survived, many will forgive others for perceived transgressions, and they may say they wish for peace.

The symbols and behaviors of Solstivus affirm our connection to the earth, its life force, and our own human purpose. Solstivus heralds the hope of a new day.

Arg is everyman at all times. Arg and Erg are in you. Does Wiseguy's explanation ring true for you?

Submitted by:

R. Paul Wilson

R. Paul Wilson insists that he is the creator and owner of the word "Solstivus" and all of the knowledge packed into that little word. Contact Paul for use rights. Paul is a word-smith, philosopher, lawyer, and if you want help to fashion a new word of your own, then email your idea to: mailto:bobwmson@imperial-garden.com





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