Monday, December 22, 2008

Good Morning Sun!

It's solstice! Hurrah!! Winter solstice is the middle of winter, the longest night of the year, the start of the days getting longer. It is a joyous holiday, a festival in the middle of the darkest winter. Northern Europeans have a long history of celebrating this time with lights, feasts, presents and a little magic. Modern Americans continue these traditions, though a bit twisted at times, with Christmas trees, a big dinner and shopping galore.

Over the years I have thought a lot about what traditions I want to keep from my childhood Christmas and what traditions I am happy to see go by the wayside. A couple years ago my older sister was explaining to her then 4 year old son why different families did different things around the winter holidays. She said there were some things about Christmas that she really liked and other things that she didn't like as much. She explained that the things she liked were generally Pagan Christmas things. Auggie proceeded to spend the rest of the holiday season asking if this or that were Peggy Fistmas. In my family we still greet each other with a rousing Peggy Fistmas :)

Of the traditions I have kept my favorite is the Christmas tree. It is truly Peggy Fistmas as there ain't nothing in the bible about no fir tree in the barn. Christmas trees are a wonderful, ancient tradition of sympathetic magic. During these dark and cold times we bring a tree that is still green (!) into our houses, decorate it with lights and shiny objects and put presents under it. By completing these acts we are hoping that whoever is in charge of the trees outside will do the same - keep them green, decorate them and bring us gifts. It is, after all, only a couple dozen more weeks until spring!

This year my boyfriend and I decorated Stuart, a live noble fir from a family member's property. Seeing as I am not spending money on new things this year we decorated him with things we had around the house including paper snowflakes and one red glass ball :) I was worried about the blue lights because I felt they would be cold feeling, but with them wrapped around the pot and reflecting the white snowflakes I think it looks quite cheery. Tree gods and weather goddesses - decorate the trees outside like we decorate the trees inside. And presents for all! :)

In college when I first started marking and celebrating the Wheel of the Year, I decided to wake up for the sunrise on every solstice and equinox. I was successful in that endeavor for a number of years. I remember a beautiful Summer Solstice at Crater Lake, a Spring Equinox on the beach at Cape Cod and more than one Winter Solstice all bundled against the cold. These last three years I haven't been able to get it together to get up that early. I always have a good excuse - it's raining, I have to go to work later, I stayed up too late the night before. But they are just excuses, aren't they?

My excuse this year was the biggest snow storm in living memory here in Portland OR. My Southwest neighborhood is under probably 6 inches of accumulation and there has been snow on the ground for 8 days straight now. This is absolutely unheard of. When I woke up yesterday morning I saw snow falling from the sky and decided to snuggle back into bed with my dog and my man. It would have been glorious, I just didn't have it in me. I did go out for a walk first thing when I woke up a couple hours later. It was pretty awesome... snow snow and more snow! And to think, just two weeks ago I was thinking how it didn't quite feel like winter and I should get used to the fact that "this" is what winter looks like in Portland. This is what winter feels like in story books! White, cold, windy and icy :)

It was a lovely Solstice despite the cabin fever. Tumalo and I went for our walk and then I came home and made polenta cakes. They were lovely yellow round pillows, like the sun itself. I topped the cakes with yogurt and homemade blackberry syrup I made last summer from wild blackberries. The first taste of the syrup instantly transported me back to a sunny field, picking berries in August. I am hooked on this home canning business :) I spent the day writing, reading and staying warm with the dogs.

Fried Polenta Pancakes

* 1 cup or so cooked yellow polenta

* 1 egg

* A 1/4 tsp or salt or more

* A couple tablespoons of white or whole wheat flour

Combine the egg and the cooked cereal along with the salt. Add the flour a tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together into a spoonable mixture.

Fry the batter by quarter cup fulls in a cast iron skillet greased well with coconut oil or other good fat (bacon grease if you are going for a savory flavor). Cook until brown on one side and starting to set on the top, flip and brown the second side. Top with butter, yogurt and home preserved jam. Happy day, happy day!

Pancakes can be made out of any cooked cereal ranging from cream of wheat to oatmeal to cooked rice. Just combine with egg and flour until a spoonable consistency. You can add any other kind of goodies to the pancakes to change the flavor - green onions with polenta, almonds and raisins with oatmeal, crumbled feta cheese or chopped leftover vegetables or spices like cinnamon or cumin. Depending on the ratio of flour, egg and cereal you may get anything from a fluffy fried porridge to a stiff, dense pancake. All will be delicious. Change the toppings to fit the flavoring - salsa, ranch, cheese sauce, tzatziki, maple syrup. Mmm.. pancakes.

One memorable solstice morning I walked up a trail outside of Ashland, Oregon. It was almost 7:30 and I crossed paths with a group of women with young children. One of the girls was chanting "Good morning sun! Good morning sun!" I can't wait until I have my own little sun worshipping toddlers to bundle up and tote along on a Solstice morning walk.

What did you do to celebrate the sun this weekend? How did you greet the new year? Did you do anything special to beat back the darkness? Happy Solstice!

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