Solstice Bonfire Traditions
By Dave Anderson
Against the creeping lethargy of a winter evening, my friends and I trudge slowly uphill into snowy, dark woods with a sack of dry wood shavings, a steel can of diesel fuel, a box of wooden matches and folding chairs...
I touch the dim flame of a single match to a paper fuse in a brush pile and step back. Flames flicker then swirl as a crackling towering inferno of brush roars to life. We tumble backwards from the Supernova of searing heat and light as flames leap amid the sawdust sparks that ascend into the stars of early winter constellations.
Winter Solstice stories are born of firelight and long nights. We settle-in for a few hours of merriment: stories, laughing and staring in collective silence at the flames. All is calm, all is bright.
The silence comes easily during the low-ebb in our annual tide of sunlight. Like perennial plants and trees, people need a contemplative period of dark winter dormancy in order to appreciate the heat, light and frenzied activity of long summer days.
For want of sunshine, folks sit under full-spectrum artificial lights to counteract “seasonal affective disorder.” But I believe a touch of winter sadness is an ancestral instinct, a necessary and deeply human response to sunlight deprivation. December brings nostalgia, reflection and sadness tinged with expectancy; dreams for the New Year.
Perhaps my solstice bonfire is a literal substitute star: releasing captured light and heat stored in the woody brush into the night sky to renew the annual cycle.
I stare into the fire, open a beer and imagine if I didn't cut, pile and burn brush, the entire northern hemisphere would remain in perpetual winter; an elaborate rationalization to celebrate Solstice outdoors with good friends!