When the nights are longest and you wake up at the watching hour, the way your ancestors did on nights like this, and there’s no way that you’re going back to sleep any time soon and you and your mama are both sick of trying, then it’s time to snuggle in the dark and tell stories about the sun (modified from Circle Round), and maybe even make cookies afterward.
Because the Sun’s been getting tired lately, I’ve noticed, waking up later every day and going down earlier, until the nights have gotten so long that you’re having trouble sleeping through them. I think the Sun’s problem is that he’s feeling bored and hopeless about how things are. He misses the summer, when he felt so strong and hot and everyone laid down on their beach towels to enjoy his warmth. But no matter what the sun does, he can’t seem to shine the way he did last summer, and it’s very frustrating.
So the Sun curls up in the arms of Night, who’s his mother. For a long time, everything’s still and quiet, and the Sun rested. But then Night started to sing a song in the dark, the same song she sang long ago while she was waiting for the Sun to be born. It’s the same song I sang long ago while I was waiting for you to be born, too, on a very long night when the whole world seemed to change.
And there in the darkness, the Sun started to dream that he could be something else, that he didn’t need to light up the same things he’d always lit up before. Maybe he could be a red sun or a green sun–or, what color do you think he could be? He could be a purple sun this year. Maybe he could feed new plants with his light, and feed some new projects for people, too. He dreamed and dreamed, hundreds of dreams, thousands of dreams. Maybe he could turn into a cookie. When the Sun thought about it later, some of the dreams were ridiculous and not all of them were things he really wanted to happen anyway, but he still liked dreaming them.
When the Sun woke up the next morning, he had some of his energy back. He felt like he’d been reborn, a whole new sun. He was excited about shining again, and each day he saw something new and interesting to shine down on, and each day he shone longer and longer.
Now, if you’re still not feeling sleepy, the next thing to do is make cookies. You’ve got to bake your sun cookies during the night or they won’t be real sun cookies. We use a cookie press, because it’s simple, and because some of the flower patterns that come with it look passably like the sun. And you’ve got to decorate your sun cookies during the night, too, though probably not the same night, because then you won’t have anything to do the next time you wake up. We decorate them in the most colorful and fabulous ways we can–this involves squeezing out some decorating gel and then dumping on lots of colored sugar–because the more fabulously you decorate them, the more fabulously the sun dreams. But when it comes to eating, you can eat them any time.
I don’t think we’ve got the Sun’s story in its final form yet, but it’s got most of the themes I want to celebrate at Winter Solstice. This time of year is about the dreaming dark, about staring into a fire shooting the shit until you start spinning fantasies and naming ambitions that you wouldn’t normally confess. Saying them out loud is magic, though, because then you’re ready to grab them when the chance enters your life, and you can see where they might mesh with other people’s fantasies and what practical kernels of desire you might draw out together.
The idea that Winter Solstice is about dreaming involves thematic migration from both Christmas–when you might get what you want, even if it takes magic to bring it to you–and from New Years, with all its resolutions. It resonates with the more general American theme of holding onto your dreams, too. But Yule involves more open communication about our desires than Christmas does and does more to support our best selves. It’s less stern and flagellatory than New Years, and it’s more madcap and free flowing than “hold onto your dreams” usually is. In the pregnant night, everything seems possible, and that’s what I like best.
I’ve only been to a Yule ritual with other pagans once, and it mostly involved rewritten Christmas carols. When I fall into Solstice-style thinking at Christmas parties–it’s where my head is–people usually don’t know where I’m coming from and look at me oddly. But this year our household sat around the fire pit a few days before New Years and talked about things we wanted, and it was wonderful. That’s what family feels like for me.
I’m pleased with making Sun cookies in the middle of the night, too. Rebecca still talks about it, even though she doesn’t like to eat cookies much. But what I’m most proud of here is that I spontaneously transformed a glum situation into a ritual that was perfectly tailored to its participants and their circumstances. That’s the kind of pagan I want to be and the kind of mother I want to be. It’s not what we usually do at 4 AM, but sometimes, deep in the long night, something new can happen.