Yuletide Greetings!

The word “solstice” comes from the Latin sol, meaning sun, and sistere, meaning to stand. At Solstice the sun appears to stand still, to pause, before continuing on its path.  We’ve been celebrating Solstice as a family for over a decade.  No matter where we have found ourselves over years, on a tropical island, out west, up north, in the city or in the forest, no matter what has been happening in our lives, this time of year reminds us to pause, and to reflect.  Our celebrations have been simple (especially when it was just the two of us) and some have  been elaborate gatherings full of family and friends.  Decorations are natural and are designed to end up in the compost heap rather than in storage or the landfill.  The greenery reminding us of the coming spring.  The candles reminding us of the returning light.

When we first started celebrating Solstice we were met with many questions and confused looks and some people were even dismissive.  It was a little isolating.  And so starting nine years ago we began sending out what we called our “Cool Yule Cards”.  They were conversation starters for sure, just look at our first one:

cool yule photo 1Yes, I put a dress on my dog.  Mad Men was not a show back then either…we were just before our time I suppose : ).

banjo bellyIn the beginning we always tried to inject a little bit of humour to try to keep it light-hearted.

coolyuledoorThis is one of my favourites…Sostice in the forest with a wood stove inside…so dreamy.

coolyuleThis one did look more “Christmas-y” but Cool Yule wishes remained the same…

Grandma cool yuleI think last year’s card was my favourite so far.  Such a great vintage photo of J’s great-grandmother!

Our 2013 Cool Yule greeting card will be revealed to family and friends tomorrow (that is if I can get a great shot of the girls on their lantern walk).  Today, I’m wrapping our handmade solstice gifts to put under the tree and finishing up the preparations for our Annual Solstice Party.  Back by popular demand will be our lantern walk which the children loved a few years ago.  After dinner we make our lanterns and set off to carol our way through the neighbourhood.  If it is not raining we will gather around the bonfire outside to sing, drink and generally be merry and, if we remember, we mark the actual moment of Solstice.   Tomorrow we’ll open our gifts, make pine cone bird feeders and decorated our outdoor tree for our animal friends.  And as always we are busy reading our favourite winter and Solstice books.

I mentioned our celebrations to a neighbour a few weeks ago and they commented that more and more people seemed to be celebrating solstice.  I’m so glad to hear it.  Solstice also means “turning point”.  Our world could use a reminder to pause and slow down, a reminder that light follows darkness, and to reestablish a relationship with Mother Earth.

This morning we woke up to find a soft blanket of snow covering the ground.  The girls rushed to the windows and squealed with delight.  Mrs. Iverson declared that it was Solstice magic that made it happen.  I think the smile on this proud mama’s face should last all day…

Wishing you all a Cool Yule, peace and joy for the New Year!

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Winter Reading: Part I

With the colder weather comes more opportunities to cozy up by the fire with some of our favourite seasonal books.

A Coyote Solstice Tale by Thomas King is hands down, our family’s favourite.   This is a hilarious story.  The trickster, Coyote is preparing to host his annual solstice dinner with friends when a girl dressed up as a reindeer knocks at the door to his woodland home.  She introduces the friends to the world of commercial holidays and leads them to the mall where “rough herds of humans rushed by. Their arms filled with brightly wrapped boxes, and murderous looks in their eyes”.  Thomas King’s brilliant poetry reminds us of the simple pleasures of time spent with friends and the beauty of the world in winter as Coyote tries to recall “if goodwill and peace could be purchased for credit or cash at the mall”.

No wait, The Quilt Maker’s Gift is the favourite!

I love this book! The watercolour illustrations are stunning and the story is all about the joy of giving.  This is not a Christmas book but it is a great way to talk about how getting everything we want does not make us happy.  Sharing what we have with others is how we achieve true happiness.  The King who has everything attempts to demand a handmade quilt from a wise woman who lives in the mountains.  Only when he has given away his last possession will she gift him a quilt.  The King finds true happiness in sharing his wealth with others and continues the woman’s tradition of giving to those in need.

Solstice is our main holiday celebration. Wendy Pfeffer’s The Shortest Day is wonderful in its simplicity.  It reviews the past 5000 years of solstice celebrations and traditions around the world.

At the end there is a more in depth explanation of  why the days are shorter and then longer with a bunch of fun activities to try on your own as well.

You’ll notice a trend in any of our book lists and that is that there are many of Elsa Beskow’s books on them. Her books are always full of children finding adventure and using their imaginations.   Ollie’s Ski Trip is about a 6-year-old boy who gets a pair of skis for his birthday.  He sets off into the forest and meets Jack Frost who takes him to King Winter’s Palace. It is full of old world charm and is such a magical story.  When my girls see frost on a window pane they always exclaim “Jack Frost was here!”.

Winter Solstice by Ellen Jackson is another wonderful book that explores the early solstice celebrations and traditions.  In this house there is no such thing as too many solstice stories.

What will we do without our trees to tap?  We move in 9 short days and I am already longing for the long winter nights spent outside tending the fire as we boil down the sap to make our delicious maple syrup.  This year we’ll have to make do with reading Sugar Snow and visiting a local sugar shack (or two) for our maple sugar fix.

This list doesn’t even put a dent in our winter reading library.  For some reason winter books out number our spring, summer and fall collections put together.  I’m one of those people who much prefer winter over summer.  There is still no snow here and I find that the girls and I are hungry for the pictures and stories of our favourite season and activities.  I’ll share more of our collection in another post.  Of course we are always looking to add more!  Here are some books on our wish list:

Islands by Anne Smythe

A Candle for Christmas by Jean E. Speare

The Winter Book by Rotraut Susanne Berner

Bella’s Tree by Janet Russell

For now we’ll have to search for them at the library but it is so lovely to have beautiful books of our own on our shelves…What are some of your favourite winter books?