Even though we are not a Christian household, my family celebrates Christmas. In a manner of speaking. When we lived in the Northern Hemisphere, this was not all that challenging to reconcile. We held onto the traditions of cultural and seasonal celebration that were meaningful for us from our familial legacies or unique, personal belief systems and we let go of the rest. We connected with cultural heritage and with assorted Yuletide traditions. We explored the history; the evolution of the bits and pieces that make up “The Holidays” in our home culture and just plain had fun with the festivity of it as a family.
A few years ago, the kids and I conducted a month long unit study of December/Winter festivals around the world as a part of our homeschooling adventures. During that month, we talked about Hogmanay, Hunting the Wren, the Mari Lwyd, the Feast of St. Nicholas, Mother Holda, Mordanicht, the Solstice alignments of Carnac, Notre Dame & Newgrange, Tante Arie, La Revellion, Las Posadas, the Feast of St. Lucia, Kolyada, Ded Moroz & the Snow Maiden, Svyatki, Ukrainian wheat traditions, the Yelka, the reemergence of Yuletide traditions in the former Soviet Union after 1992, Babouska’s story, Diwali, Kwanzaa, La Befana, the Chinese New Year, Hanukkah, Mawlid, & more. I encourage you to look up as many of those terms as you can to find at least a somewhat decent online summary of their significance because, as the kids & I learned, they are all worth knowing about this season. Some are traditions & celebrations based on non-Gregorian calendars and therefore vary in exact date from year to year, but do often pass close to other December observances. Knowledge & understanding of the common threads of seasonal celebration across cultures and traditions expanded our sense of connection with the world around us during December & January. But primarily only the north half of the world, as we later came to realize.
We moved to the other side of the world, The Holidays rolled around, and things got weird.
Even when we lived in Texas, the winter festival season brought release from the heat. Nights got longer, days shorter. There might not be snow involved, but the heat ebbed significantly. The seasonal manifestation of Yule still took place in its own way throughout the portion of the Earth on which we lived. Now, an hour’s drive south of the Tropic of Capricorn, the heat waxes strongly as the Gregorian year wanes. It is a sensation I cannot fully acclimate to, even as I enter my third antipodean holiday season.
The juxtaposition of a Summer Christmas presents an assortment of dichotomies. In the Earth-based Neopagan traditions that mark the eight Sabbats, the Summer Solstice energies are present now, with the Sun moving decidedly closer and closer to peak power. Since Queensland does not utilize Daylight Savings, the Sun is rising before five in the morning right now with so much zeal that I am driven from sleep by its persistent rays, forcefully weaving their way through slats in my blinds and cracks in my curtains. Iced coffee is my dawn friend. This is not the season of the Sun’s gentle birth which meshes so neatly with the season of the birth of Christianity’s newborn Son. This is fully formed, rampaging Solar Power manifesting a lengthy reign from intensely early hours of the morning on. The dissonance makes it difficult to for me to put up evergreens & hang paper snowflakes about the place when the Flame Trees are in full bloom and everyone smells faintly of sunblock. But my children crave familiar traditions, so I do my best to sweat my way through a certain amount of typical Northern Hemisphere-centric holiday cheer. They can forget about my roasting anything for Solstice Dinner, though.
I have found, however, that the Southern Hemisphere application of the Sisterhood of Avalon’s Cycle of Healing coincides incredibly well with our Western/Gregorian calendar-based celebration of New Year’s. While my Northern Sisters are pressing on into the deep work of the Dark Half of the Year that encompasses the Station of Confrontation, I am climbing with the sun to the celebratory peak of the Station of RESOLUTION.
Resolution is such an interesting word for the dynamic present in my life at this liminal time of year. I am wrapping up this Cycle’s major healing work. The issue at the heart of this Cycle has been resolved for now. Personal progress is harvested and that calls for celebration. I can look back over the Cycle- and while I reside in this hemisphere, the calendar year- and see how far I’ve come, how much I’ve grown in the direction of my Authentic Self. But even as I survey that growth, a piece of me looks forward towards the threshold of the next Cycle, the next new year and resolves to once again take up the Grail Quest. This now, is the essential spirit of my holiday celebrations.
And yet, a piece of my heart remains with my Sisters of the North. This is part of my experience of the Hermetic Principle of Polarity. This heat, this solar power, this Resolution exists concurrently with the deep, dark, stillness of winter’s Confrontation. One is never in this world without the other. When the heat of my existence wanes and the Dark Half of the Cycle comes to pass Down Under, I will know the warmth of the Light is still with me in this world. I will know who carries it when I cannot.
So, let those of us who stand now in the strength of the Light at its apex, celebrate this Summer Solstice by blessing that warmth on its way to those about to pass the Longest Night, secure in the knowledge that when our time comes to brave the Dark, they will repay the blessed favor.
Kate Brunner is a writer, healer, ritualist, & member of The Sisterhood of Avalon, studying at the Avalonian Thealogical Seminary. She is an American expat, living in Queensland, Australia and homeschooling her children, with the world as their classroom. Before motherhood, Kate earned a Bachelor of Arts from Tulane University, while studying Economics, International Relations, & Religion. She served four years as a logistics officer in the US Army, after which, Kate became a doula and holistic birth educator. She is a regular contributor to The Sisterhood of Avalon’s online journal, The Tor Stone and is active in the Red Tent Movement. Kate volunteered in Houston as a presenter for monthly Red Tents and semi-annual women’s retreats before relocating overseas. She enjoys international travel, perfecting her cooking, reading great books, & having fascinating conversations with friends, old or new.
8 thoughts on “Holidays and Holy Days Down Under by Kate Brunner”
I celebrate Christmas too with my tree and decorations. I cannot get my head around celebrating Christmas at summer solstice. Judaism’s and Christianity’s amalgamation of seasonal and historical holidays is definitely a conundrum in the S hemisphere. Goddess pagans can adjust to the actual seasons, Christians and Jews cannot.
It’s not an easy conundrum, even for many native Southern Hemisphere residents. My antipodean Pagan friends actually struggle with this juxtaposition of seasonality versus a cultural celebration of a heavily British-influenced Christmas. It’s a bit of a year-round challenge actually and not limited to the Yule/Litha polarity. Commercial Halloween is gaining cultural ground here and that’s creating a bit of a clash for Pagan families trying to explain to their little ones why they are going to be dancing a Beltane maypole instead of trick-or-treating like the neighbor kids.
Halloween has long been shunned and is still perceived by the ordinary australian in the
street as being American commercial BS. Halloween has gained ‘cultural ground’ as a
rationale for getting rigged out in costumes, theme for a rage. We’re not quite there yet,
in the broader community, with re-establishing an understanding of Halloween as a custom
that is pre-Charlie Brown.
Thanks Kate. You might find this interesting. Here’s a poem, titled “Christ’s Birthday,” by Emily Dickinson, which some have criticized, because she forgot that Jesus was born in a warm climate in Israel, not in a snow-covered, winter landscape like a December 25 in her own New England town of Amherst. Why she names herself here as a boy is intriguing also, maybe just refers to memories as prepubescent, or she might be playing the part of John the Baptist?
The Savior must have been
A docile Gentleman —
To come so far so cold a Day
For little Fellowmen —
The Road to Bethlehem
Since He and I were Boys
Was leveled, but for that ‘twould be
A rugged billion Miles —
Every winter or summer when I have an email conversation with a friend or an author in Australia or South Africa, I learn something new about the seasons and how different it is Down Under from what I’m accustomed to. The movement of the earth around the sun is a fascinating journey for all of us.
As a Pagan, I celebrate all the holidays and wish everyone a happy holiday. I’ll be posting my holiday blog –a child’s Christmas in Dellwood (where I grew up)–in a little while. Happy Solstice to all!
Really enjoyed your post. Just had to chuckle when I read:
“…difficult to for me to put up evergreens & hang paper snowflakes about the place when the Flame Trees are in full bloom and everyone smells faintly of sunblock.”
And I think your kids deserve a Masters in cultural studies after taking your Winter Holidays unit!
Number one is to find some friends to say “You’re doing well
After all this time you boys look just the same”
Number two is the happy hour at one of two hotels
Settle in to play “Do you remember so and so?”
Number three is never say her name
Oh the flame trees will blind the weary driver
And there’s nothing else could set fire to this town
There’s no change, there’s no pace
Everything within its place
Just makes it harder to believe that She won’t be around
Cold Chisel lyrics ~ Flame Trees ~ 1984
Classic aussie pub rock!
I wish I’d had you as my teacher when I was a girl. What a wonderful curriculum you followed with your children, learning so many traditions and stories. I do want to look them up.
I spent a Christmas season in the Yucatan, Mexico a few years ago and felt the same disorientation. It was so odd to be hot and sweating and walk into some little store full of Mexican, brightly colored things to be greeted with a “Feliz Navidad”. I was always forgetting that it was the Christmas season. And even though it is in the northern hemisphere the hot days were not anywhere near as short as in the more northern latitudes.