As the sun takes its eternal voyage around the earth (regardless of what flat-planet Trumpsters might believe), our days become their darkest at winter solstice. The crisp chill finds many fireplaces working overtime, making the long, hard and hot days of finding, chopping and stacking wood pay off. Brilliant starry nights are at their longest, giving those that live in the more northern regions a greater chance of observing the dazzling show of the vibrant dance of an aurora borealis.
The solstice is a significant occurrence for many Tribes. It is a time for celebration that not only marks the changing of the seasons but also speaks to the symbolic renewal and healing of the world. Medicine wheels and other sacred structures from those found at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico to the Druidic Stonehenge of the British Isles, show that tribal peoples around the world understood and revered the importance of this celestial event.
For many solstice is the time to relax, somewhat, and to enjoy the fruits of their hunting and gathering labor throughout the rest of the year. Additional time indoors is often spent repairing items, making baskets, and playing favorite games. For many Tribes it is also the appropriate time for storytelling.
In the grey gloom of the rainy or snowy season, those with the gift of gab, a quick sense of humor, and the knowledge of tribal customs, formulas and stories, regale us with the tales of times gone by. These are often intertwined with more than a few amusing anecdotes of recent foibles, and funny situations that family or community members have been involved in. It is the time to slow down a bit and listen to the wisdom of creation.
Our stories tell us many things: They explain how animals got certain characteristics, or tell us the origin of the traditions, rules and traditions of our people. Stories teach us how to be Native, how to live in a good way and what is important to know about right and wrong. They can also connect us with our family history and how we got to be where we are today. This recounting of tribal stories reinforces the oral tradition that forms the basis of communication of Native peoples. My favorite part is that it is always interspersed with copious amounts of laughter.
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The kitchen table seems to have replaced the fire pit as the favored gathering place for these oral stories, both accounts of traditional Tribal as well as the more personal family stories that legends are made of. Relations of all generations seem to never tire of hearing the recitations of stories that range from prehumen times when the animals that populated the world could walk and talk, to the more recent reminiscences of a favorite Auntie and the time she did something memorable, and more likely than not, something that was quite humorous.
I quote the profound wisdom of the philosopher Charles Brown from the ubiquitous holiday Snoopy cartoon:
“Christmas time is here families drawing near
oh that we could always see
such spirit in the year.”
The nip in the air reminds us that nature is all powerful and will outlast the meddling of mankind that has led to global climate change. This is but a minor annoyance in the cosmic scheme of Creator’s infinite universe. Long after we have passed from this realm, the spirit people that came before us will heal the damage we have collectively ravaged upon our home planet.
Just My Two Dentalias Worth.
André Cramblit is a Karuk Tribal Member from the Klamath and Salmon rivers in northwest California and the Health Promotions & Education Manager for United Indian Health Services, Inc. He lives with his wife Wendy and son Kyle, and still recounts the time he was blessed to see the Northern Lights on his first trip to Alaska.