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Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the Winter Solstice arrives on Monday, December 21, 2015. Most people recognize this date as the official first day of Winter. Others mark it as the return of the growing light, those longer days that makes Spring possible in only three short months.
But the Winter Solstice is more than the first day of winter and the promise of spring; it also offers us an invitation to cultivate deep contemplation regarding a whole new cycle of death, birth, fruition, decay, death, and rebirth. However you have marked this day in the past, may you find a meaningful, even ceremonial way of welcoming the Winter Solstice this season and the greater perspective it brings regarding the eternal round of life and death here on Planet Earth.
In this time of seasonal feasting, it is inevitable that we remember fondly those stories, many made into films, that take us to a place of reverent nostalgia regarding our own past ritual feasts. The Christmas Dinner in Little Women is always one of my favourites, along with a modern version of the crazy Christmas togetherness in The Family Stone. Every time I see Elf I laugh and cry because the naive, child-like part of me wishes every orphan could end up a loved and valued Elf in Santa’s workshop. Generosity, forgiveness, and love are always on the menu in our favourite stories, as well as a balancing portion of the kind of satire we find in Eating Raoul,Tampopo, and The Hunger Games. Recent food documentaries A Place at the Table, The Power of Community, and Food, Inc. help us to understand why we are so preoccupied with food in our culture, and the First Nations peoples’ experiences recorded in Standing Silent Nation let us know why we need satirists like Jon Stewart to rival Jonathan Swift and his “A Modest Proposal”. These films and many others illustrate how food brings us together and separates us but one stands above the rest because, while it is about food, it is also about the spiritual nature of life, even in the midst of great feasting.
In Ontario, we celebrate Thanksgiving the second Monday in October, a time when harvest is in the air and fall fairs abound. It is a quiet holiday, sometimes combined with closing up the cottage for those families who have a summer place on one of the beautiful northern lakes. Most often Thanksgiving in Ontario centres on family; many college students make the journey home from college, often for the only time before the big break in December, and extended family members scattered to the four winds gather at the ruling matriarch’s or patriarch’s home to share celebratory family dishes and catch up on family news. For those without blood relations nearby, close friends gather on this holiday for potluck dinner parties in which stories are exchanged about the origins of recipes and the transformation of rituals over time. Food stories often reflect the bitter and the sweet aspects of these gatherings.