Traditions at Winter’s Beginning

I haven’t updated in a while because I’ve been working on a variety of projects. Earlier this week, though, I cleaned and dusted my shrines, put some cedar essential oil on my aromatherapy diffuser, performed a purification ritual, and started anticipating the solstice.

For the past few years, I haven’t really done much beyond libations to Helios for Heliogenna. Work officially doesn’t break for the wintertime recess until the 24th, and I’ve never taken the time to go to Upstate NY to be with my mom for the solstice.

This year, I was feeling festive for the first time in many holiday seasons. I started thinking about how I grew up and the bonfires that happened in Hannibal every solstice, when we stayed up late and awoke early with the dawn with the smell of old smoke on our clothes.

For the past few years, my mother has asked if I am decorating for the holidays. I never had the bandwidth to think beyond Christmas trees, which I knew I didn’t want because I don’t want to bring Christian symbols into my home. This year, though, I had a better idea of what I wanted — partially based on reading about the aromas and god-infused decorations in the homes of Late Antiquity described in The Final Pagan Generation. I bought a bay wreath in honor of Helios and Apollon and hung it up in my living room. The air instantly felt light and breezy, like something had clicked into place. It was only a day or so after I did that very thorough purification ritual, and I was still buzzing a bit from that lightness.

The solstice wreath, view from the front

Solstice wreath, viewed from an angle with two lights in view.

 

Growing up, we celebrated Saint Lucia’s Day because my mother started getting in touch with my maternal heritage. My great-grandparents both came from the glassblowing regions in Norway and Sweden, and my great-grandfather blew glass for Steuben. Starting in middle school (ish), I awoke before dawn on December 13 to wear a crown of fake evergreen with artificial candles and served my family hot chocolate and lussekatt. We did this despite not being Christian. My mom would occasionally make traditional Swedish and Norwegian dishes. I found a gluten-free lussekatt recipe that I’m gonna try making today.

I’m half Scandinavian and half Québécois American, and depending on the time, one side has been emphasized over the other. An impressive, dictionary-sized tome of French ancestors loomed on the dining room shelf growing up, entire lifetimes documented in its pages. My mother made lussekatt every year, and it was always a treat when she made Swedish meatballs because she’s vegetarian, and Swedish food is meat-filled. It was a patchwork of traditions.

My great-grandfather’s generation was also highly assimilationist. We have foods, heirloom textiles, and some of my great-grandfather’s glass, but in many ways, we lost the richness of the traditions in favor of the cookie-cutter American Popular Culture wintertime practices. We didn’t even know about the Yule Goat until someone told me about it on Twitter this year. My mother loves goats — and, oh yeah, I bought a Yule goat, y’all. (Only 12″ because the big ones are slightly beyond my budget.) It’s easier for me to handle a Yule goat than a Christmas tree cognitively, just as it’s easier for me to associate lussekatt with goddesses like Theia and Sól despite it being part of a Scandinavian Christian observation.

As a Hellenic polytheist who doesn’t have much Mediterranean heritage, I’m actually highly conscious that I’m Hellenized in the same way that many people living in Greek-speaking metropolitan cities in Late Antiquity were Hellenized. This is one of the reasons I’ve started investigating Late Antiquity so heavily and, beyond the sacred calendar I follow, tend to de-emphasize 5th century BCE Athens in my personal religious practice.

The solstice and crown-of-light traditions were always much more meaningful than our secular version of Christmas. I’m celebrating Heliogenna with wreaths, candles, and (hopefully!) a romantic dinner with my girlfriend, and it coexists in a menagerie of traditions that my family celebrates.

As far as projects go, Epiphany is still going strong. It’s a polytheistic science fiction story and political thriller. I’ve also started grouping my constructed language and other linguistics nerd-related stuff on Pangrammatikê. Right now, I’m doing a lot of lexicon-related posts for #lexember. Much of the lexicon-building includes sacred terminology.

Happy Solstice!

 

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