Note; in 2003, when these events happened, the solstice was on the 22nd, which was also the fourth night of Hanukah. This year, the solstice will not occur until the 21st, but I'm posting this as though today were the solstice, because it's close enough. -D.
I'm getting tired of this bitter-sweet parade of "lasts," seriously. Last spring, last summer, last fall, last Yule on campus...I've gotten used to celebrating Yule. I like it. I like it a lot. How am I going to greet the holiday season without it, next year?
I suppose you could say the winter solstice is going to happen everywhere, and that's true (at least everywhere in the northern hemisphere--in the southern hemisphere the solstice in December is for summer), but it's the community that makes it meaningful to me--just as long as we have we, as Dr. Seuss says.
I'm at the Yule celebration now, in the Great Hall. The whole room is full of decorations and the scent of good food, and bits of wrapping paper and gift bags and people in their pajamas--we changed into our pajamas this morning at Joy's request after lot of us got wet and cold during a snow-ball fight on the lawn in front of the Mansion. After that, we came down here and all ran around the room, finding our gift bags, each with a student's name on it, each filled with chocolates, candy, and fruit and little "stocking stuffer" toys, and then we had breakfast--pancakes, freshly made, and each round and golden as the sun. That was hours ago, and a lot of people have crashed out, gone to sleep on the couches and out-of-the-way corners of the floor. I might take a nap, too. Tight, after dinner, we'll clear all this away and have dancing, those of us who are up for it.
When and where else am I ever going to have an opportunity to act like this much of a kid again?
Earlier in the day, me, Steve Bees, Raven G., Joanna, and Eddie were all sort of huddled together, working our collective way through a bag of nuts. We had a variety of nut-crackers, but none of them were working very well, and nuts kept escaping, slipping out of the crackers and popping up into the air and rolling away. We'd have to chase after them, not always with much success.
"This is why chocolates are inherently better," asserted Eddie. "They're easier to eat."
"Chocolate has to be processed, too," I pointed out. "It's just that we don't have to process them."
"Exactly. The processing makes them better. That's why processed foods are called 'value-added products.'"
"But don't you think this, with the nuts, is more fun?" said Raven.
"I can think of more fun things to do with nuts," asserted Joanna.
"Well, there is peanut butter," suggested Steve Bees.
"I wasn't talking about food," clarified Joanna.
"Neither was I," Steve replied.
"Ew," said Raven, "Steve, I don't want to think about you and peanut butter."
"What?" he protested. "Anybody on campus can talk openly about their bodies and sexual practices, but when I make one little crack, I get 'ew'?"
"I don't want to think bout your crack, either," said Raven, and just then the English walnut she was trying to open squeezed right out of the nut-cracker, shot straight up into the air, and fell, knocking over her hot chocolate. We all scrambled to get the spill cleaned up before it could stain anything.
"You'll shoot your eye out," sing-songed Joanna.
Alien Steve, the new Nora, and Evie, who is one of this year's one-hit wonders, we clustered beside us, and they jumped up to help deal with the chocolate spill, too.
"Merry Yule," said Alien Steve to Steve Bees, as we sat down again. The two Steves shook hands. Apparently they hadn't yet gotten a chance to interact today.
"Merry Yule to you, too," added Steve Bees, addressing Nora. "Those were some pancakes."
"Thanks. I think using yogurt, instead of milk, made a big difference."
"Well, something did. Yogurt, huh? Could I have the recipe?"
"Sure. I think it's still pinned up in the kitchen."
"How are you liking Yule?" Steve asked."You and Evie." Both Nora and Evie are yearlings.
"It's not new for me," asserted Evie. "I've been Wiccan for years. I like how you do it here, though."
"I like it," said Nora. "I didn't expect to."
"Why not?" I asked.
"Well, frankly I thought it would distract from the birth of Jesus. A fake Christmas."
"Historically speaking, it's the other way around," asserted Eddie.
"Yes, I know. Everyone keeps telling me."
"I didn't know you were Christian," said Steve Bees.
"You never asked. But I'm not very Christian. I don't know. I shouldn't have worried about it. Maybe I'm just getting more sensitive because I feel like I'm the only Christian here."
"But you're not."
"You know, sometimes Yule here feels more like Christmas to me than Christmas does?" said Steve. "It's like Christmas when I was a little kid."
"I feel the same way," I said.
"I don't," interjected Alien Steve, who is Jewish.
"Does this feel like Hanukah?" I asked.
"Of course. It is Hanukah. I don't know what you all mean about the feeling of this or that holiday. This is Hanukah, therefore, this is how Hanuka feels."
"How's your Hanuka going, then," asked Eddie.
"Oh, fine, fine.
"What you get?"
For answer, Alien Steve pulled something out of his gift bag and put it on his head, wearing an expression as though he really did not deserve such ridiculous indignity. It was a head-band with alien-type antennae on it. We all laughed.
"You totally had that coming, though," said Eddie.
"Did not. I take my identity very seriously. It's not a joke."
"It's because you take it so seriously that it is a joke," I told him.
"Your identity, my sexuality," commiserated the other Steve. "Nobody gives us any respect."
"I could make some comments," said the alien.
"But you won't, because I'm better at making comments than you are," warned Eddie. Alien Steve threw up one hand in a gesture of resignation.
Steve Bees and Raven made a run for more chocolate and brought back a handful of candy canes to share.
"Now, these are easy," said Eddie, sucking on the straight end of a candy cane, and we all giggled. He looked at his candy cane a moment with an odd expression. "Not everything I do or say is a sex joke, you know," he said.
"We know," said Raven. "If it were, we wouldn't be able to tease you."
"Just tease back," suggested Joanna.
"I've been wondering," said Steve Bees, "If Yule is like Christmas for children, what is Yule for grown-ups? Wicca isn't more childlike than Christianity, is it?"
"Maybe only children still notice the important part of the holiday," suggested Evie.
"Maybe the grown-up part is what you have to be a grown-up to notice?" suggested Eddie.
Last night, when we started our Yule party (and lit three Hanukah candles), it was raining, not hard, but it was a cold, spitting rain, and I worried we were going to have another wet walk up the mountain. By the time we all headed out, though, the rain was over and the sky clear and full of stars. The air had gotten very cold and I could feel the ground crunching under my feet, but in the moonless dark I thought I was feeling frozen grass, or maybe a little slush.
Then we got to the top of the mountain, all silent, and waited, shivering, for the dawn and the music of the hidden masters. And when the sun lifted clear of the horizon, it did so all golden and clear and glowing, shining out on a world covered in...snow!
Everything was white, all the ground, covered with about a half inch to an inch, all the shrubs and the twigs and branches of the trees and the windward side of all the tree trunks, all painted white with clinging snow and ice, the whole world golden and white spreading as far as we could see out over the hills and ridges to the horizon.
And that's when we came back down to campus and had the snowball fight.