Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Our Family Autumnal Observance

The equinox happens here today at 2:18 p.m.

Sunday evening we had our family Autumnal Equinox ritual observance. It was mostly a lazy day. My youngest had been working on a book report, sculpting figures from the book in polymer clay. But with the exception of playing and exercising with the Wii, a bit of hand drumming and laundry, we were resting. I think this is appropriate right before the fall equinox, a moment of stillness before the turning of the wheel.

During the day there was a time when we encouraged the boys to watch some cartoons, like children do, and the four of us lazily stretched out on the big couch like a pride of lions, each of us touching at least two others. Heads on laps and feet on legs. We weren’t really cuddling deliberately, not wrestling or tickling. We were just connected. Even one of our cats got in on it, lying on the top of the couch back, his kitty paw resting on my elbow. He’s a member of the family too.

On Saturday I had given the boys a brief lesson about Mabon, showing them where the equinox sits on the wheel of the year in relation to the other days of merit. We talked about what this day might have meant in the “olden days,” and what it can mean today. I reminded them of why we do this – we do this because we never want to forget our relationship with our earth – that we evolved here, and for this reason we are made from this earth. It is a part of us and we are a part of it. We are inseparable from it. The holy days of the wheel help us to mark the passing seasons and acknowledge our relationship. I don’t go into anthropomorphization of deity in the Goddess and the God – they are too young for that. But I do believe that a person can benefit from being connected to these ancient archetypes, and this is an important part of my life.

Yesterday, when I began to gather the things we use for our family ritual my youngest son brightened. I could see the anticipation in his eyes. He loves these things we do as a family. What surprised me most was the pleased response from my husband when I told him that I had a full ritual planned. Sometimes I worry that he just tolerates the pomp and circumstance. But no, he seemed to enjoy it too.

For this time of year, our ritual involves simply eating a meal in sacred space. The ritual focused on giving thanks, appreciating where the food comes from, and the importance of family and community. We talked about how harvest time might have been a time to take stock of the success of the harvest. Today we harvest too, but we harvest different things in different ways. A person doesn’t have to work in the fields to enjoy the fruit of his labors.

I said, in the old days people might have said something like, “What about Widow Smith? I hear there was blight in her vegetable garden this year. Does she have enough food to get through the winter? Does she need help?” I said that we don’t experience that type of hardship as much in the middle-class life we lead, but in the old days most people were faced each winter with hardship and the prospect of a difficult survival. In modern America, some are outraged when they experience hardship, as though they are entitled to a life free of struggle. But the truth is that all of us, as humans, will experience hardship and struggle at some point in our lives. The thing to do is to prepare for it, rather than deny the inevitability of it. And, most importantly, to help others who are in hardship whenever you can. Because if you look around, you can always find someone less well off than you.

It was a good, simple meal. We had chicken quarters, and colcannon. I made a carrot and raisin salad and Brussels sprouts. We had picked up croissants and a strawberry rhubarb pie at the bakery. We topped the pie with good ice cream – I deliberately bought just a pint, so that there would be none leftover to tempt us. I browned and seasoned the chicken and placed it in a crock pot with chopped onion and celery. When the chicken was cooked, I took it out and set it aside, and filled the crock pot with shredded cabbage and cubed potatoes, and poured in defatted broth from the chicken and a can of evaporated skim milk. When the cabbage had cooked enough to reduce in volume, I placed the chicken back on top. When it was time to eat, I took the chicken back out, mashed the heck out of the vegetables in the crock pot, and when it turned out to be a bit too soupy, I stirred in enough dried potato flakes to thicken it up a bit. (I usually keep the dried stuff on hand for that exact reason. –Shhh – don’t tell my secret.)

Afterwards I asked the youngest if he enjoyed it, and he smiled and said he did – both the ritual and the food. I did too. The ritual was pleasant, and gave us the connection, the time to pause and reflect, that we sometimes need.

As we ate, we joked about how we were all going to hear about it when we stepped on the Wii balance board the next morning. I was surprised though – my weight was only slightly higher the next morning and today my weight was down by quite a bit. It is possible to feast while watching one’s weight – carefully.

This was our Thanksgiving. The current American Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November, which was ultimately declared a holiday by President Abraham Lincoln, is more a national holiday steeped in American mythology than a true day of thanksgiving, at least to me. It’s a great opportunity for the family to do something meaningful together, but in my view it doesn’t have to be about turkey, a big meal and football. I’ll buy at least one turkey in November, since they will likely be on sale, and I’ll cook, but I won’t knock myself out preparing a Thanksgiving feast. We’ll eat well, hopefully without overeating, and we’ll talk about the American Thanksgiving, and the mythology that we were taught in school, and what we learned later. However, we will have already had our true thanksgiving feast.

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