Solstice is a star holiday. And all the crazy beautiful ways we celebrate it are remembrances of what it feels like to be a star.
I just had coffee with a new friend from Latvia, who humored me when I peppered her with questions about her country’s pagan folk traditions, especially about their Solstice celebrations, which are the stuff of legend. I asked her what do people do in Latvia to get through the Winter, when there are so few hours of sunlight? She laughed, ‘Eat.’
I’d always assumed that we eat more during the Winter for lots of reasons: so that we replace the calories we burn through our tight shivering; so that we acquire a slight extra layer of fat against the cold; as an attempt to ground ourselves during a chilly, crispy vatic season. But when Anita told me about Latvian people processioning from house to house on Solstice night, singing long incantatory carols with rhythms meant to call the Sun back, I realized we eat also for the same reasons we carol and gather. We eat because we miss the Sun. We eat because we miss our Star.
With less light in the sky and on our skin, we still need sun energy, which is not the overabundant Vitamin D flood-level that it is in the Summer. So we go about it another way. Plants, sweet sun-eaters that they are, convert sunlight to food energy through photosynthesis. Christmas-dinnering, cookie-nomming, and hors-d’oeuvring our way through the cold darkness, we seek sunlight in any way we can, even at a remove. Desperate for light, we try to eat it.
And I think there is an even deeper reason as well. We eat because we miss being stars.
Yule is the conception-point on the Wheel of the Year: the point at which things begin to take form after the restful vacuum that is Samhain, November, and early December. It is the point at which we are back to the energy of beginning, the Bang that begins the new year.
In this time of beginnings, we attempt to re-create the conditions of beginning. According to astronomer Mark Sullivan, supernovic explosions seed the field of the Universe with the elements that make up planets, that make up our own bodies. If we are all bits of exploded stars, then at a time that talks of light and intention and resolution, first-footing and blank calendar pages, we remember on some deep level what it took to get here in the first place.
In Kabbalah there is a theory about how the Universe was created: that there was an original Vessel, a singularity seed-sum, that exploded like a nova into a zillion sparks that are the souls of everything. Everything has a spark of that original blinding brightness within it. We are elements of that nova. When we gather together with others, when we eat more food than we think we should, we gain in warmth, amplifying into starriness. When we cluster and string lights around our houses, when we surge bonfires against the night, we are creating our earliest memories of what we were, in the vast field of space.
We make ourselves warm like stars, bright like stars, able to generate enough energy to explode into the New Year, all the potential latent still-to-be-created bits of it lying like treasures for us to discover. At the conception-point of the Universe, we create enough energy for that conception to be possible.
Winter Solstice calls us to the spark of light in darkness that is the memory of a star. To all of us, all parts of exploded stars: no matter what we choose to call this season, as animals we are all together at Yuletide, all in exile, and all at home.
This holiday, may we remember what in each of us, those we love, and every random holiday-pressed stranger, is Star.
Blessed be and Merry Yule!
Photography by Jeff Frazier, all rights reserved. http://www.jefffrazier.com/