- All decorations would be organic in nature and non-religious in content. I type this while sitting by our Solstice tree, which is decorated only with white lights, tiny lacquered apples and red mushrooms, glass icicles, feathered birds, and minute straw baskets filled with cranberries. In a previous year's celebration, only additional ornaments that fit within the theme of "bells" were allowed. I have to say, the effect is considerably lovelier than it ever was in our less restrained Christmas celebrations - perhaps because we put more thought into our decorations and their motifs now.
- No Christmas carols. This one is rather hard for me. Usually I cheat slightly and listen to The Messiah a few weeks before Solstice/Christmas. D and I have a continuing (over the course of the last decade) argument about carols. He prefers the godawful (that's right, its my blog, and I said it) modern carols. The worst he ever introduced me to was called (I believe) "Dominick the Italian Christmas Donkey." My taste leans more towards medieval carols, or anything pre-war. The more hymnal carols. Songs that evoke the world of historical romance for me. "The Holly and the Ivy." "Good King Wenceslas." Am I the only person on earth who still enjoys that last one? D has taken to calling me "Good King Wencelsnout" by way of vengeance.
- No gift-giving. In my family, if you see something that makes you think of someone, you give it to them, regardless of time or occasion. This way, if you receive a gift, you know it is the result of genuine thoughtfulness, and you are always pleasantly surprised by it. This gift ban functions well primarily because I was already an adult when we instituted it, beyond any sense of glee or disappointment with regards to Christmas gifts, and past any need for lessons in the pleasures of giving and duties of receiving.
- The party itself. Each year we hold a Solstice party, inviting neighbors, family, and old friends from all over the nation. The only rule of Solstice is that you must wear the one thing that you don't normally have an opportunity to wear, and wish you did. The result is a panoply of full length cloaks, velvet smoking jackets, woad tattoos, and ball gowns. My grandmother always used to come in an intricately embroidered Palestinian dress; my grandfather in a traditional Swiss wool coat. This year my friend JF arrived wearing an Italian naval cape, and his husband RK the bespoke suit he was married in over Thanksgiving. This year I had nothing to wear but the backless, plunging-necklined ancient Greek dress that I wore last year, so I spiced it up with the addition of a "familiar": a proud little bird, plucked from the Solstice decorations, who clung to my collar and wrapped its tail feathers around my throat like a necklace.
On the morning of the party, our Washington, DC neighborhood looked like this:
My worst habit is I get so tired of winter
I become a torture to those I'm with.
If you're not here, nothing grows.
I lack clarity. My words
tangle and knot up.
How to cure bad water? Send it back to the river.
How to cure bad habits? Send me back to you.
When water gets caught up in habitual whirlpools,
dig a way out through the bottom
to the ocean. There is a secret medicine
given only to those who hurt so hard
they can't hope.
The hopers would feel slighted if they knew.
Look as long as you can at the friend you love,
no matter whether that friend is moving away from you
or coming back to you.