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  • Earlene Gleisner

Winter Solstice Message

Picture, if you will, barren land with clusters of desert sage and low-lying groups of cacti. Adobe huts huddle in twos and threes with occasional solitary wood framed shacks standing in the late evening sun. In the communal center there burns a fire.

My family and I are participating in a Winter Solstice Ceremony on Red Wind Multitribal land on December 20, 1980. The day has been spent preparing tamales, rice, and beans with other celebratory foods. All to be eaten the next day. Tonight, we fast as we prepare to feel the night. A quiet drum beat rhythmically begins. No further wood is applied to the flames. We are praying as it goes out. Some are naming individuals who have passed or are sick and sending prayers for themselves and our Earth.

The group of us (perhaps 40 men, women, and children) are growing quieter. The temperature is dropping, and a chill wind blusters around us as we stand a little closer to each other. All fires will be put out tonight. No wood stoves will burn, and the pilot lights will be turned off. No lighters for cigarettes or flames of any kind. The sun falls behind the western mountain ridge, and shadows deepen. We stand until only small coals sparkle in the looming darkness. Fortunately, there are stars tonight which multiply so we can see shadows despite the lack of Grandmother Moon.

We are standing just as all indigenous tribes have stood long ago, sometimes in fear and anxiety. They knew this was the longest night because they had tracked their days to this time. They lived always in hope that the sun would return.

Our family is being hosted in a sod house and will enjoy mattresses instead of a tent and pads. We’ve brought sleeping bags and extra blankets. The use of a buffalo robe is greatly appreciated. I sleep fitfully, dreaming of a long-ago time when survival was the focus of everyone in the tribe. When being aware and caring for the earth was a primary concern. Where brotherhood and sisterhood weren’t a choice but a need.

The heavy striking of a hand drum awakens us in the predawn. Stars sprinkle the sky, and our group stands again while the honoring fire is prepared. In darkness, we begin the prayers for the return of the Sun. We are encouraged to ask for goodness in the new year that’s beginning. For another chance to live well on our paths. We sing songs to welcome our Sun back from its trip about our prescious planet.

We all cheer as the shining light brightens. The Eastern sky and this golden glow becomes a burning orb. The temperature changes and the desert becomes alive with color.

Honoring the Solstice has become my favorite holiday. Every year I feel relief and gratitude that I’ve let go of one set of experiences and am greeting an opportunity to step into comfortable old ones and many new ones. Whether I am alone or with others, it’s my return to the light, my new year, my next chance.

I wish for all of you a time of blessed remembering of the year that is passing. May you let go of what no longer serves you and embrace that which will lead you onward through your personal journey into wholeness.

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