Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Celebrating Life

The Summer Solstice is generally recognized as the longest day of the year and many celebrate it in some form or fashion. For pagan folk, this day holds a special meaning and is one of eight holidays in the wheel of the year. While I revel in the longer days that build up to this one particular day and eagerly anticipate the eighteen hours of daylight that the solstice brings, I also dread the ever shorter days that follow, eventually plunging us back into the darkness of winter – the seemingly endless cold, damp days when my life hangs in limbo waiting for the sun to dry the earth and warm the chill in my joints.

Growing up in Texas, I hated the sun and the incessant heat. The notion of celebrating the sun never occurred to me. After spending fifteen years in the cloudy Pacific Northwest, however, I’ve learned to appreciate it a bit more. Still, I don’t yearn for Texas where the temperatures hover around 110 degrees for weeks on end. My preference is for the milder weather – not too hot and not too cold, not too wet and not too dry. I’m a middle-of-the-road kind of gal. Call me Goldie Locks; I like it just right.

On the fictional world of Astralmira in my books, the Sídhenar characters would be celebrating the Súlnémaraté (pronounced SOOL-nāy-mahr-AH-tāy) today, which is a celebration of life and abundance. They honor their demigod, Súl, the Keeper of Fire, by gathering around large community bonfires, feasting, and making merry. Similar to the Summer Solstice, it marks the longest day of the Astralmiran year and the beginning of their summer. Súlnémar means “season of the sun,” from the Sídhenaroí words súl meaning “sun” and némar meaning “season.” The suffix -até means “celebration of” whatever precedes it – in the case of the Súlnémaraté, it’s the celebration of the season of the sun. Since the Keltahran winters can be rather harsh, it makes sense that the Sídhenar celebrate an entire season of warmth.

The characters in The Traveler’s Saga welcome the beginning of each new season with festivities and participate in several other public celebrations throughout their year, such as the annual Sídhenaraté (pronounced SHEE-nahr-AH-tāy) when they honor their ancestors. They not only acknowledge birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries; they also recognize personal rites of passage, such as coming-of-age, croning, and death. They pay tribute to their past, honor their present, and look to the future. Traditions are extremely important to this culture and festive gatherings are intrinsic to their way of life.

In our modern life here in America, we’ve replaced some of the old rites of passage with new ones. Getting a driver’s license, for instance, is most likely equivalent to a woman from a hundred years ago becoming old enough to get married or a boy being considered a man. “Coming out” parties probably have an entirely different meaning now than they did fifty years ago. Then there are other rites that have all but disappeared in our culture, like croning. When a woman reaches menopause, she becomes a crone – a teacher who shares her wisdom and her life experiences with younger women. What? People do that? Wait a minute. I thought we warehoused our old people and forgot about them. Isn’t that the rite of passage now?

Sadly, it does seem like we’ve unjustly discounted an incredibly large portion of our population and rather than honoring them, we hide them away in shame. (I’m using the collective “we” as a generalization, of course.) Imagine what our young people could learn if they spent at least one afternoon a week listening to stories from their grandparents or other seniors about what life was like “back in the day.” I’ve always enjoyed such stories; they sparked my imagination. Instead, we feed the ever-growing rift of disconnectedness by using technology to “speak” with each other, letting our fingers type out misspelled words and infinite acronyms which have taught the youth of our country ineffective communication skills for the professional realm – or any realm, for that matter. While it’s certainly a great thing to be able to send a message instantly, I find it appalling that two teenagers can sit next to each other on a sofa in the same room and have their conversation through text messaging on their cell phones rather than looking at each other and conversing with spoken words and real emotions. Emoticons just aren’t the same as hearing a hearty chuckle and witnessing the sparkle in someone’s eyes when they hear your voice.

So on this day, I intend to not only acknowledge the longest day of the year with all that extra daylight, but I will celebrate everything that brings light and love into my life: sunshine, family, friends, community, pets, trees, rocks, flowers, in-person conversations, long walks on the beach, etc. Today I celebrate life in general. I will pay tribute to all the senior citizens of the world. I will even celebrate all the acronym-wielding teens who are oblivious to life outside their tiny handheld screens. LOL.

Happy Summer Solstice!

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