We do not celebrate Christmas. There. I said it. We don’t do Santa. We don’t decorate a tree. And for the love of all things cool, calm, and collected—we do not do the big roast dinner. Why? I’m Pagan. EG Dad is Atheist. And the weather outside our Lair is a balmy 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Instead, we celebrate the Summer Solstice.
Solstice (Summer or Winter) is an astronomical phenomenon. It is science. It is set in the stars. There is no messing around with whether it really happened, because it simply does. Every year. It can’t be manipulated, delayed, or even cancelled—no matter how frustrating my kids may be on the third day of their school holidays (only 38 more days to go…)
The Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year. It derives from the words sol (being our Sun), and stasis (being stationary). In astronomy, the Solstice is calculated for the moment the Sun appears stationary, or ‘rests’ a little longer in one position in the sky. In December 2016, the Sun appears stationary at the southernmost declination (approx. -23.45°) at about 9.45pm on Wednesday 21 December, before heading north again a little more each day. Yeah, it feels a little weird for our Summer Solstice peak to be at night time, but that’s science for you. For a child-friendly explanation, check out the NOAA/NASA SciJinks page.
And hey, it’s not just an Australian thing. The Northern Hemisphere has a Solstice at the same time! It just feels different because the Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year. Same bat-time, same bat-channel… Just less sunshine, more moonlight, equal good-times, and plenty of boogie.
So what makes this sciencey-event a celebration in our family? The Solstice has always been a celebration across many diverse cultures. In our case, the science explanation appeals to EG Dad’s atheist beliefs, while the pagan festivities appeal to my cultural and sociological interests. It’s not like this is a new idea, or even unique. Over the years, we have both appreciated the duality of the celebrations and it works brilliantly. It saves that whole awkward conversation about why we are singing “Jingle Bells” during the Australian Summer. This is a lot easier to explain to kids.
Way before the advent of electricity, humans were driven by the natural light of both the Sun and the reflected glow on the Moon. As the days grow longer, more sunshine provides more seasonal benefits and encourages people to relax a little, be a bit more casual. Just like your Summer Shorts you are hiding away in the bottom drawer.
In this case, it is the first day of Summer. It is a time to remember all the good stuff from the year past. As a family, we take the time to reflect on our year, especially the brightest moments that shine with dazzling happiness and love. Moments we have shared with others, bringing light to our year. We all know after the party is done, we go back to work and prepare for the cold dark Winter ahead but today, we will feast like ROYALTY!
For our little Evil Genius family, we choose this time to throw a big barbecue for our loved ones. There are prawns, chicken drumsticks, beef kebabs, sausage sizzles, and even some lamb chops. We sit amongst the bright summery decorations and drink summer punch, Bundaberg Ginger Beer, and lots of water. We settle down to a dessert of pavlova, summer fruits, and “sunset jelly”.
We invite everyone who has brought sunshine to our year and say thank you, sometimes with gifts. For example, earlier this year I broke my wrist. Two very good friends cooked meals for me and delivered them right to my balcony. That was a massive boost of sunshine in my life. The least I can do is throw a party and give them a gift to say thank you. But ssshhhh! They don’t know about the gift yet.
As soon as those sunny days start to shrink, the community knows the good times have ended. It’s time to harvest and start preparing for the long dark days. This is where the Winter Solstice party kicks in. You hit the longest night of the year, and now every day is bringing you closer to Summer! Every day is a little brighter and a little longer. For pagans, this was the “Sun God” returning to them and helping them step out of their winter-depression, calling them back to the light.
And guess what they do at a Winter Solstice party? They light candles; they make wreaths; they exchange gifts; they talk about a local who delivers a present to every child to celebrate the rebirth of the Sun; they cook a big feast with roast dinners; they drink mulled wine; they throw a Yule log on the fire; and often have pudding for dessert with coins or charms hidden within. Any of this sound familiar?
I love Summer Solstice, probably more than any other festival on the calendar. I love it because it means something to me again. I’m not buying presents for a whole bunch of minions out of obligation. Instead, we are buying presents for people who we truly appreciate in our lives. With all the commercialization and pressure in our lives, I really feel like we have returned to the “Spirit of Solstice”: gratitude; appreciation; celebration. What better reason do you need than that?
Happy Holidays, minions! Whatever your celebration may be, on whichever date it may fall—may your celebration be geeky and festive for all!!