On the Sunday evening after our Lucia Party, my co-hostesses and their families lingered around our sparkling Yule tree into the darkening evening. We had spent the weekend together, and they weren’t quite ready to return to their individual homes. We knitted, napped, snacked on leftovers, and read stories to each other from my collection of children’s Yuletide books. (One of my favorites is Susan Jeffers’ illustrated version of Robert Frost’s Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.)
Christina is quite eloquent on the topic, as you know if you’ve read her book Storycatcher: Making Sense of Our Lives through the Power and Practice of Story. She writes:
Story is a map.
The map that gets one person through gets the next person through.
We depend on story to learn from each other,
to inspire values-based action,
to imagine the new ways forward.
Storytelling is part of the solution to the world’s ills. It’s a way that we connect to each other, learn to care about each other, and support each other.
So I decided to try it. I asked each person to share a favorite Yuletide memory from childhood, and in the second round, a favorite Yuletide food (either from childhood or now). I loved the stories that emerged. It turned out that several of us had wonderful memories of the powdered-sugar-covered cookies I knew as Snowballs, and others knew as Russian Tea Cakes. (Now I’m thinking about making a gluten-free version!)
I remembered that my mother and I made Snowballs specifically as a gift for my Uncle Bud, because they were his favorites. And later on we made peanut brittle for my dad — that was his favorite. I also remembered the decorated Jordan Almonds my mother would always buy at Bullock’s Department Store on Wilshire Boulevard’s Miracle Mile. Those would always be in my stocking on Christmas morning, all decorated up to look like gnomes and tin soldiers, in a fancy box with silver foil. I loved those.
My dad would make fresh-squeezed orange juice every Christmas morning, and we would drink it before opening any presents. There would always be an orange at the very bottom of my stocking, too. Even though oranges grew on trees right in our backyard there in Los Angeles, my parents kept the tradition alive. When they were children growing up in Oklahoma and West Virginia, oranges were a rare delicacy at Christmastime. They each got oranges in their stockings, and so did I, along with a bit of family lore about what it was like to be part of a huge family during the Depression, when presents for all the kids were hard to come by.
I was talking to my son and granddaughter the other day over Skype, and Steve was asking 4-year-old Gracie what she thought would be in her own Christmas stocking this year. She said: “An orange!!!!!” So we talked about the family tradition and where it came from — because he, of course, remembers getting an orange in his own childhood Christmas stockings.
Now I know that oranges, those “golden apples of the sun,” are sun-symbols and tokens of prosperity at Yuletide. (I learned this from my friend Waverly Fitzgerald, of course!)
I loved telling and listening to those stories on that quiet Sunday evening. We went around the circle more than once, as memory led on to memory.
Now, I would add another round to the first two, and ask another question:
What is a favorite memory of stillness and solitude at Yuletide (from childhood or more recently)?
I asked this question of the folks who took my “Gaian Soul Practices for Yuletide/Midwinter” e-course, as the first week’s theme was all about seeking out times of stillness and solitude during this busy, social season. One of the women in the course shared this memory with us:
I was raised in a remote corner of northeastern Washington (20 miles from the British Columbia border). There was very deep snow in the winter! From the time I was a young girl, I loved walking in the gloaming each evening. Really drawn to that liminal space (and still am!!). I have distinct memories of walking down the freshly plowed road after days of heavy snow at dusk. The mill whistle blew its lonely and haunting whistle into the brisk, fresh air… and there was no other sound except for more snowflakes beginning to fall — and they were so icy cold that they “pinged” against the sleeves of my blue coat. This memory is embedded in my marrow bone… Thanks for helping to stir this memory that fills me with longing and sweet memory!
Ah, I just love hearing that!
I invite you to share this practice with your friends and family this Yuletide, and to share a story or two here, too. I’d love to hear some of your stories in the comments below.
- What is one of your favorite Yuletide memories from childhood?
- What is one of your favorite Yuletide foods (now, or from childhood)?
- What is one of your favorite memories of stillness and solitude at Yuletide (from childhood or more recently)?