for the solstice

Persephone books is reading my mind this week. In Monday’s Persephone Post, with a Jane Peterson painting that speaks to me of warm-on-a-cold-day, they reference the joy known universally to reading women of “Boxing Day when they might be allowed a few hours on the sofa with a Good Book.” It’s St. Stephen’s Day to me, Mr. Wenceslas’s big day, but there was resonance here of a conversation I had only recently:

“What would you like to do on St. Stephen’s day?”
“Well, read, obviously, but I don’t know what else... don’t we sometimes bake?”

To complicate the dichotomy that the ladies at Persephone set up, between holiday preparations and quiet time to read, I have also often enjoyed baking on St. Stephen’s Day, but specifically because the pressure is off, and it feels like the first day when it is possible to bake on my own terms again (clean kitchen, music at whim, no time obligations whatsoever). But first and foremost, the 26th is a day for reading: everyone needs some quiet that day, all of the expectations of constant socializing must be dropped, and hopefully, one has at least one new book that's been tugging at one from the edge of all the socializing. So, perhaps a good day to bake something yeasty, and fill the long proofing periods with reading.

Still, before we get there, the solstice this week is the first of my December holiday trinity: this is the quiet one, spent in exactly my own way, sparkling between cool air and warm light, and hopefully out-of-doors and champagne and eating meat again for the first time in Advent (though I had some early solstice celebrations away from home this year with family—I, like many of my contemporaries, believe myself an inventor of flexibility in ritual).

The solstice has been special to me for a number of years, and it’s delightful to see it coming forward in collective attention recently thanks to the astrological renaissance underway on the internet and in millennial havens nowadays. My social circles include representatives of both sides of the polarization that astrology brings out, a conflict that’s amusing if you keep in mind how recently (half a millennium or so ago) there was no line as such between astrology and astronomy. For this, I see the rationalists and the astrologues as the conflict of the schism: the skeksis and the mystics of the world I inhabit. I have a guess, however, at which side would be happier to hear me describe the conflict as illusory.

Still, I feel that any version of modernity currently practiced will not prevent any of us from appreciating the turning of the year, the hope for the returning of the sun. In my life, too, this December moment is a symbolic one: the promise that eventually, later on in January, I will start to get some sunlight back in the morning, the only time I really care about it. Many people I know are delighted to start gaining light in the afternoon, since, I suppose, they find it gloomy rather than magical to leave work in the dark. For me, it’s still another month to wait for relief, but the solstice encourages: brighter times ahead.