A Solstice is a pretty big deal. Just as the North and South poles anchor the axis on which the earth spins, so do the Summer and Winter Solstices form the armature about which the wheel of the year spins. Ancient cultures organized much of their lore and ritual around this polarity, and even more recent cultural traditions devote a good bit of song and custom to expressing this metaphor in various ways.
Of course our Christmas Revels is rooted in observance of the Winter Solstice. The recitation of Susan Cooper's Shortest Day poem, followed by the exuberant cry of “Welcome Yule!” marks the occasion with clarity and emphasis. It is the way that those of us in the Revels community reflect the long and broad tradition of celebrating the turning of the year. It is an occasion of joy. We have come together to share our delight in the emergence of light from darkness, the rebirth of hope in the coming year, and the reassuring cycle of rebirth – beginnings emerging from endings.
I don’t have much trouble knowing how to feel about the Winter Solstice. Everything about it seems good and positive. Even though the daylight will continue to expire before dinner and the weather might still be miserable for a good long time, things are still moving in the right direction. Our celebratory faith has been well placed.
The Summer Solstice is a little more complicated, at least for me. While it enjoys equal stature with its sibling, the implications of its arrival feel mixed. Even though the occasion marks the longest day of the year and the weather is warm, school’s out, and vacation fun is in the offing, still I feel a slight twinge of melancholy. After all, once you’ve reached the peak of the mountain, aren’t all directions down? If this is the longest day of the year, won’t tomorrow be shorter? Doesn’t the path of these glowing, flower-bedecked days mark a headlong rush toward darkening autumn?
One of the signature ways that Revels has celebrated the Summer Solstice has been dancing down the sun. As the hour of sunset approaches near the end of whatever celebration we’ve been having, our Morris “side” arrays itself to the west of the assembly and performs one of their more elegant dances as the sun sinks below the horizon. It is an occasion that is both lovely and meditative.
I have danced this myself and as the stepping progresses found myself sorting through the mixture of feelings that this event calls up. It certainly feels like a salute to the sun, a révérence to the supremely benign regal presence that engenders both solstices. Beyond that though, are thoughts filled with the contradictions and complexities of joy and sorrow, gain and loss, anticipation and disappointment - this is, after all, an event marked by dichotomy in the details. But above all, I feel a sense of the ephemeral. As I feel my own existence seem to shrink in significance before the majesty and inexorable turning of the cosmos, I experience an awareness of how special and fleeting each moment is that we spend together here on this planet.
I’ve never thought to check in with my teammates to ask what they were thinking, but I’ll bet their thoughts follow similar paths, and I’m guessing so do the minds of many of those in attendance. It is a moment of special awareness and potent ritual that is just as moving and in its quirky, equivocal way just as bonding as a hearty “Welcome Yule” at the other end of the year.
By gathering to celebrate the Summer Solstice, all Revelers can have a chance to participate in this complex ritual. That is why our “stage” is open to anyone who would like to share a performance. Poems, songs, magic, juggling, stories, dances – it’s potluck performance. Bring a “dish” to share. Every expression of Solstice spirit is appropriate, and every participant is valued. The moment is fleeting, so let’s all celebrate it together.
“Such a long, long time to be gone, and a short time to be there” – Robert Hunter, Box of Rain
- David Parr, Artistic Director