Every year, for 42 years without missing a celebration, John and I have make a shortest-day-wilderness-feast on winter solstice to help bring the sun’s warmth back to the earth.
Robert Davidson, a Haida Canadian artist, once said, “The only way to maintain tradition is to keep making new things.” I have thought about that sentence for years. Sometimes I understand it and sometimes the words shift and I must puzzle about the meaning all over again.
This year some of the traditions had to become new.
We still built a fire and cooked one piece of everything that keeps us alive, so we can say thank you in a deliberate and attentive way,
but we added popcorn and coffee. And who would argue that these two are not life-sustaining? I learned that something new to a tradition causes the old to become a foundation.
We still made bird cookies to decorate a tree for our elder sisters and brothers, but this year I had to use butter and peanut butter, instead of beef suet, to hold the shape of the wee bird seed ornaments.
And millet sprays became icicles, instead of the long slivers of bread soaked in suet I have made in previous years.
Of course some parts of a tradition never change. Canada on December 21st is cold, no matter what part of the landscape is receiving the gifts.
We had to find a new little tree along the shoreline to decorate, as our usual special places are now on someone’s private property, but it is good to explore new territory.
And the best tradition of all still happened. The Sun broke through the heavy clouds and came to the feast.
Sometimes the new thing is a letting go. This poinsettia was a gift years ago, and has been slowly dying ever since. I doubt it will see another winter solstice but still it shines out a red glow.
Although we do not bring a tree inside, the days following our solstice feast are filled with holiday traditions we mostly all share: the delight of presents, of colored lights and glowing candles.
Yet 2020 had one more big new moment that maintained tradition. Covid prevented our traditional sit-down pot-luck community Christmas dinner but did not dampen the crazy effort of Isabelle, Noah and their helpers, to provide a free, drive-through, take-out warm turkey dinner with all the fixings.
What a blessing to be part of the new thing that maintains tradition!