Merry Solstice to all, and to all a goodnight
As told by Doug Williams to Julie Kapyrka
This is a very special time of the year for Anishinaabe people. The solstice is on its way.
Indigenous peoples around the world who live close to the land know that every year, Dec. 20-21 is both the shortest day of the year and the longest night of the year. And this is a time of celebration.
Most of the activities you see today around the celebration of Christmas are actually the traditions and rituals of the First Nations peoples—or the earth peoples or “pagans,” as some would say. For example, the decorating of pine trees, the gift giving, the feasting, the singing of songs, the familial celebration, and the story of an old man who gives out gifts to kids—are all born of natural peoples’ traditions.
What is interesting is that because it was not known for sure what time of year the Christian prophet was born, and seeing all the natural activity around the winter solstice, the Christian churches decided to borrow that time of year. Now most people celebrate the birth of Jesus on Dec. 25, and have incorporated pagan/earth-based cultural traditions into their Christmas practices.
As a spiritual Anishinaabe person, when people ask me: “Do you celebrate Christmas?” I tell them that this time of year is my celebration.
A similar thing happened with the earth-based peoples’ celebration of thanksgiving that was here originally: it was eventually taken over by Americans and then copied by Canadians.
Winter is also a special time of storytelling. As I have told you before, we see spirit in a lot things. One of the spirit characters who has the respect of BIBOON (the spirit of winter), and who shows herself as a star cluster, is a MANITOU (spirit) we call GAAGIIBIBOONKEH—the Winter Maker. Most of you call this constellation, Orion the Hunter.
Winter Maker is the one who looks over winter and makes sure everything is working harmoniously—who makes sure all that is alive and not alive is looked after during this time.
She takes off her shawl and covers everything with a soft blanket, taking care of the resting earth and her creatures. She can also be biting as well, reminding us to pay attention—that life is precious and must be cared for.
Snow is very much a required part of the great cycle of life that gives us rest, re-birth, harvest and growth. Picture GAAGIIBIBOONKEH as a wise elder woman who is in the sky to remind us that we are small, and to give thanks for all those gifts given by her.
In the last 20 years I have seen the amount of snow we receive in winter declining. When we don’t get snow, the earth and animals are not protected, the spring thaw does not produce the much needed drink the land needs after a long rest, and the cycle of life is threatened.
The Elders have warned us what will happen if we do not take care of the earth. But thankfully they have also provided to us some very specific instructions on how to live in balance and in a good way on this planet . . . but that is another story.