Saturday, 19 May 2012

Bigger Better More Spectacular

Every year for the past 25 years our community has celebrated Yule. Not the Christmas hot mid-summer Australian present buying consumer madness. The real solstice, Yule, the mid winter point, the longest night, the darkest night, the point, (though it might not feel like it), when days will start to get longer.

We have a giant bonfire and an inside fire pit, flaming torches, candles and lanterns. Each year we have to warn the children not to play with the sticks in the fire -  carefully put wood on the fire but don't take it out or you'll drop embers. 

Each year we have a  homemade feast and we exchange one gift that each of us has made. We pick a name out of a hat six weeks earlier. The gift must be handmade, and even the littlest children are included. Every year it follows much the same tradition. Every year there is the same frantic rush to finish presents, the same secretive excuses to find a hat size or a coat size. 
There is a ritual to the gift giving. We stand in a big circle around the bonfire, and the littlest child goes first, round the circle carrying a lantern and their gift, until they find the person it is for. During the night we have a show-and-tell where each person shows off the gift they got and tells the story of who made it and why they love it. Every year there are the ohs and ahs as the story unfolds. It is perfectly magical.

About twenty years ago our nearest big town started a lantern parade to celebrate the solstice. It has grown to be a major tourist attraction, with sponsors, permanent staff, public liability insurance, posters and its own website. It has marshals and a designated route and viewing areas. I'm sure it's spectacular.

In modern society we have more and more organised "rituals". We have sporting events that have advertisers and betting and ordered seating, versus back yard cricket or kicking a ball where children learn social and physical skills, where they hurt themselves, or hit the ball into the neighbor's yard and have to negotiate its return. We have fireworks displays for New Year that are organised by governments. We have Christmas carols on TV and businesses that hire just Halloween costumes. 

But for me, rituals need to be real and personal to be meaningful. not bigger, better and more spectacular. One day I might go to the Lantern Parade, but only if the date doesn't clash with our Yule.