Sunday, December 22, 2019

An Elemental holiday.

The problem with this time of year is that every religion's holiday celebration is on a different day. The Jewish celebration of Hanukkah (which isn't really a major holiday, but has become one as Christmas has become commercialized) is probably the most well-known -- it's determined by the Jewish calendar, which is a lunar calendar. That means Hanukkah can begin any time between the end of November and the end of December. This year, it starts tonight.

Most Pagans celebrate the winter solstice -- the shortest day of the year. That date, too, moves around, although not as dramatically as Hanukkah: the solstice can occur on December 20, 21, 22, or 23. This year, owing to time zones, Yule was yesterday for North Americans, but it's today for those on the European continent (while Down Under, they're celebrating Litha, the summer solstice).

And of course Christmas is always on December 25th, which this year falls on a Wednesday -- a highly inconvenient day for those who like to make three- or four-day weekends out of their holiday celebrations.

So as I write this on Sunday, December 22nd, the Jewish readers of hearth/myth are just getting their festivities underway; the Christians are in their last-minute buying/wrapping/baking/cooking frenzy; and here at La Casa Cantwell, we're in post-holiday relaxation mode, having had our Yule feast and gift exchange yesterday.

As you know, I've been writing a series about Elementals all year, and it's my opinion that Elemental spirits -- to the extent they celebrate holidays at all -- would mark the solstices and equinoxes. So my gift to you this year is a ficlet featuring a winter solstice observance in Raney's world.

So I’ve mentioned that we moved around a lot when I was a kid. Like, a lot. Every time I turned around, Mam was packing our bags and hustling me out the door to somewhere new. She had to keep a step ahead of my father and his desire to recapture her – an actual undine – for his collection of unique things. Of course, if he caught her, he’d also have me. And while I’m only half-undine, my other half is his DNA, which made me unique in a whole different way.

Anyway, I was forever the new kid at school, having to deal with a new group of schoolmates. Sometimes the kids would be nice and sometimes they’d be jerks. On a few occasions, we didn’t stay long enough for me to find out which they were.

So by the time I hit high school, I was heartily sick and tired of living on the run. I literally could not wait for the day when I would turn eighteen and blow my mother’s weird, furtive popcorn stand forever. It’s not that I didn’t love her. It’s that I longed for permanence: a place where I could unpack and settle in. A place where I could relax, fear-free. A place nobody could jerk out from under me.

Eventually I got my wish. After I became a TV star, I bought a beach house in Malibu. It has a soaking tub and a pool overlooking the Pacific, and it’s mine, free and clear.

But when I was in high school, my reality was packing and running, packing and running. So when I came home from school for winter break one year to find Mam packing our clothing in a box, I exploded.

“You can’t be serious!” I wailed. I wailed a lot back then. Human hormonal changes wreaked havoc with my ability to keep my emotions in check – which was never very good anyway, thanks to my undine half.

Mam looked at me in surprise. “Dearest,” she said, cooing, “it’s not what you’re thinking.”

“‘It’s not what you’re thinking,’” I said, mocking her. “Every time we move, you say it’s the last time and we’ll never have to move again. And then you pull out the suitcases, and I know you’ve lied to me. Again!” I was fuming and crying at the same time. “We can’t leave now. I can’t let the dive team down! And I’m signed up for tryouts for the school play next month!”

“I know,” she began.

“And you said we could have a tree this year. A real Christmas tree!”

“A solstice tree,” she corrected.

“Whatever! You said we could have one!” I was full-on ugly crying now. “I just want to be normal!”

Mam waited a moment to make sure I was done yelling. Then she said, “We’re not moving. We’re going on vacation.”

My tears dried up immediately. “What?”

“We’re going on vacation,” she repeated. “I’ve packed your winter coat and boots. Where’s your hat?”

“In the drawer with my scarf,” I said automatically.

“Go and get them,” she commanded.

“Are you serious?” I said, in quite a different tone than I’d used when I first got home. “We’ve never been on vacation, Mam.”

“We are now,” she said with a small smile. “We’ve been invited to a celebration. And it’s going to take several days to get there, so hurry up – I need to get this box of clothes to the post office before they close.”

I peered in the box as she spoke. Along with our coats, she’d packed all of our warmest sweaters. “Where are we going?”

“Somewhere cold, obviously. Go on!” She flicked a hand toward me, shooing me away.

“Okay, okay,” I said, and ran to find my things.

We left the next day. The house we were renting was on a big lot that bordered a creek. We ran down to the water’s edge, stashed our clothes in the cubby where we always put them when we went in the creek for a soak, and dove in. Immediately, we both dissolved, and as always, I reveled in the caress of the water as it cleansed every fiber of my being. But nothing could take away my excitement. Vacation! What an amazing concept!

When Mam had said our trip would take a long time, she wasn’t kidding. I followed her essence down the creek to the river, from the river to the bay, and from the bay out into the wide Pacific Ocean. I was entranced by everything: the dolphins that raced us, chattering; the schools of fish that tickled as they cut through my watery molecules; the pod of whales that circled us as if serving as our honor guard.

We moved north and farther north, until several merpeople met us and escorted us into a bay where houses fronted a frozen beach. When we emerged from the water, it was dusk, and bitter cold. “Where are we?” I asked, as the merpeople hustled us into a warm cabin next to the water.

“Alaska,” Mam said. “Above the Arctic circle. Dry off and get dressed. We don’t want to miss the party.”

Alaska! It seemed impossible that we’d come so far. “What day is it?”

“Today is the winter solstice. We’ve been traveling for three days,” said Mam. That seemed impossible, too.

When we emerged, it was full dark. But the lights in the little village were blazing, and so too were the lights above the village. We Water Elementals sang and danced and feasted under the dancing Northern lights. I’ve never been to a more magical party.

That vacation kicked off a magical year. We got the solstice tree Mam had promised me. Then I won firsts in all of our dive meets that winter, and I got the part I was hoping for in the school play. That summer, when Mam told me we had to move again, I almost didn’t mind.

These moments of bloggy reveling have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Happy holidays!

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