I sat with my morning cup of tea, listening to the sound of cooing doves and twittering birds through the open windows, as a pleasant breeze flirted though the house. Watching a vivid green Anole gecko slowly cross the inside of the lanai screen with his suction cup toes, warning him to watch out for the gecko snapping English Whippets, I finished writing out the menu for Solstice dinner. Here at Chez Aloha, there will be nine of us gathering at the dining room table tomorrow night, a rather eclectic mix of guests (never mind the odd number), celebrating a bit of holiday cheer and delicious food.
You could hardly call the supper I’ve planned a traditional Hawaiian holiday meal. Pretty far from it, actually, but it suits my tastes and sensibilities (and I’m a fairly non-traditional sort of guy). The menu, as it currently stands, includes:
- Hors d’oeuvres (smoked salmon and caper dip with gluten-free crackers; aged Manchego and membrillo [a traditional Spanish quince paste]; mixed olives, and warm, spiced nuts) and high-caliber Champagne
- Roasted beet soup topped with a swirl of Moroccan-spiced yogurt (Wine: an Oregon Pinot Gris)
- Winter salad of organic baby greens, Pink Lady apples, roasted pecans, pomegranate, and Stilton with a balsamic vinaigrette (continuing on with the Pinot Gris)
- Organic chicken breasts stuffed with herb pesto and chèvre, served atop a salsa negra with pasilla chiles, accompanied by a roasted butternut squash gratin (Wine: a Spanish Tempranillo Reserva)
- Chocolate Bliss Oblivion (dark chocolate tart with a cashew crust, served with almond praline and raspberry coulis)
One of the guests, a last minute addition who was going to be out of town, doesn’t eat any dairy, so I’ve revised the menu so that it will mostly accommodate her needs (with a few modifications and subtractions to her various plates), including the dessert. (To my partner’s dismay, the signature Chocolate Heartsong will not be making an appearance tomorrow night, but will make its O’ahu debut on Christmas Day, instead. Sorry, love.)
With the menu set, I turned my attention to the grocery list and then the master task list, starting with details of the table and mentally working down through the various courses of the meal. Sometime today (after finishing this journal post) I’ll do the shopping and attend to setting and decorating the table, ironing the linens, polishing the silver, and possibly making the dessert.
Tomorrow, while Robert and Jane clean the house, I’ll pull on my French apron and engage the remainder of the action plan (now affixed to the fridge with a magnet alongside the night’s menu). The list is not overly long, so it spurs my recurring fantasy that I’ll get to rest in the afternoon for a bit before the guests arrive. Even after all these years of cooking, and despite serving a relatively straightforward meal like this one, the production still takes longer than I think it will… and the pleasant siesta in the afternoon remains a mirage.
Let the Solstice preparations begin!
In the northern hemisphere, the December solstice marks the longest night of the year, when darkness reaches its zenith. For years, I celebrated the year end Solstice not only as a neo-pagan alternative to traditional Christmas but also to celebrate the light returning in a long, dark winter. Like our ancestors of old, the advent of days growing longer and the darkness slowly retreating seemed as worthy a thing to celebrate as anything else. (A few festively wrapped presents never hurts, either.)
At the dinner table, to my assembled guests I would usually make a little speech about the pagan origins of the Solstice, the Roman celebrations of Saturnalia and Sol Invictus, and how Pope Julian 1 moved the “Christ mass” to coincide with the largest pagan holiday of the year (arguably to gain more followers for Christianity).
Some years ago, reflecting my ongoing work with soul, around the time that we moved to England, I made a curious switch in the focus of my December Solstice fête—celebrating the darkness itself. As the realm of soul and mystery, of transforming Underworld journeys, and the cocoon for symbolic death and rebirth, I decided to welcome and celebrate the darkness rather than pushing it away as something undesirable (or rejoice in its demise).
In the opening of the chapter titled “Myth, Shadow and Light” in my forthcoming book, I recount an episode where I’m walking through the snow on a dark Winter Solstice night, headed out for a bit of personal ritual, magic and ceremony:
Most celebrations of the Winter Solstice focus upon the light returning but on this snowy night I’m choosing to celebrate the darkness, itself. Rather than something to be pushed away, I’m keen to welcome and embrace it. As an integral part of the Cosmos and psyche, the richness of the dark is both essential and misunderstood. Darkness is more than merely the absence of light; the dark holds its own unique energy, a powerful and palpable force in its own right. It guards something vital and mysterious. It is the hushed breath of lovers and the elemental force to tear them apart. Like either the Sacred Masculine or Divine Feminine, the dark embodies one half of creation. Truly, light loses its significance without the opposite to offer contrast and balance…”
“… Even as we fear or associate it with death, darkness is essential for creation, new life, and rebirth. A seed only sprouts when placed under a protective and nurturing layer of soil with the light blocked away. When the masculine spark seeds the feminine womb of creation—in the Unified Field, the energetic spheres of psyche and deep imagination, or in physical reproduction—it is in darkness that life and energy generates. Gestation is an essential time of growth; a time of sacred waiting before birth where profound change and transformation is occurring but cannot yet be seen. In such darkness, energies evolve into molecules and matter; cells divide and create new forms; seeds germinate and reach upwards towards their potential; bees build their sacred geometry of comb and turn the nectar and pollen of flowers into honey; and events draw mysteriously together to form pathways, destinies, and solar systems.”
The fecundity of darkness is elemental… and worthy of its own celebration, I say.
(As an aside note, whilst living in England, no, I never joined the massive Solstice gatherings at Stonehenge—upwards of twenty-thousand in attendance. Mobbed and mad. I remained comfortably at home in our charming cottage, sharing a nice bit of supper with my beloved and a glass of bubbly, thank you.)
(Another aside note, I will confess to liking the clever sign: Axial tilt is the reason for the season. I fancy it for a t-shirt, personally.)
Here in the islands, not only is the shift in seasons slight—essentially we have a warmer, dry season for roughly half the year, and a slightly cooler, wetter season during the other half—with Hawaii’s relative proximity to the equator, the length of daylight doesn’t change overly much either. As a celestial event (or terrestrial, if you prefer), the Winter Solstice seems less of something to celebrate than it used to when I dwelt in the cold, dark northern climes.
My previous post lamented a bit over the oddness of winter holidays in Hawaii, where each day seems pretty much like any other, and we’re dressed in shorts and “slippahs” (the folks living ‘upcountry’ Maui and Big Island excepted). Yet thanks to this Solstice dinner looming imminent, I’ve managed to rally a bit of festive cheer; I even tossed a few decorations about the house (which sent my mother-in-law into near cartwheels of delight), though there is still no tree. C’est la vie.
As I tinkered with the menu this morning, I realized that my holiday gathering is simply about gratitude. It offers a chance to sit down at an elegant, festive table with family and chosen guests, to savor a feast for the senses and a bounty of blessings. We all have much to be grateful for. Personally, I will be rejoicing that the final draft of my manuscript has been shipped off to White Cloud Press (ahead of its deadline) and I am free to start the new year with a clean slate—as an author, not just a writer. And I will continue to celebrate the astounding good fortune of being married to my lovely mate, along with the ongoing abundance of mysterious grace in our lives.
Too, I deeply appreciate all of you who read the Soul Artist Journal and/or listen to the Riverspeak podcast (sporadic as it is lately), your comments and notes. Blessings to each of you.
Gentle reader, here’s hoping that whatever your chosen holiday this time of year, may it fill the golden cup of your heart with a sense of goodness and gratitude. I hope you pause to take a deep breath and open your senses wide to the beauty around you, whether the festive cheer of a decorated house, the bounty on your dinner plate, or the twinkle in your beloved’s eye. And as you traverse your spiraling path through life (while we collectively spin and hurtle through the Cosmos), may you learn to celebrate the mysterious gifts of shadows as well as those more luminous ones.