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The death grip of hallmark holidays: Winter Solstice Reflections

This piece was originally written by Jessica Cudney in December 2019.

It’s one of my favorite times during the cycle of the year - the winter solstice and the darkening of the light. I honor this time of the year and feel the importance of attuning to earth’s calling to slow down, turn inward, and commune with the Great Mystery. As life is stripped of her outermost adornments, so too are we given the opportunity to look deeply into ourselves and into the heart of this season.

Heeding the call, we are asked to cleanse the bodymind of distractions and ways of being that no longer serve us. We are asked to strip away all that is unnecessary, all that is superfluous so that we may come into contact with something greater - our deeper natures and truths. Only when the fog has lifted will we be given new eyes to see.

It is during this time when I feel closest to the wild and to the one who calls me by my real name. It is she who whispers to me in the dark and beckons me to follow. And yet, to hear her voice I must listen closely… intuitively. Listening with my inner ear requires an outer quieting. My pace must slow and shift from productive to creative movement, from doing to being. My quality of seeing must become relaxed and peripheral rather than focused and narrow.

It’s the time to say less and dream more. It’s less about making sense of things and more about allowing life to be revealed. There’s nothing to figure out, rather I feel called to create space to be with what is wanting to come through. Becoming the vessel, clearing the channel. All of this requires a certain kind of discipline and fortitude. So much of what we need during this time lies in restraint and within our own longing and capacity to know ourselves.

And yet it’s precisely this time of year when I feel challenged the most to give myself what I truly need - and I know I am not alone in feeling this way. What I long to pour inward becomes focused outward in my preparations and participations in the holidays. It’s the time when our collective psyche goes into a deeper state of sleep. Our individual desires become strong, thus harder to tame. We enter into a collective frenzy of spending what we do not have and buying more of what we do not need.

The pace quickens. Waste and emissions, stress and shame multiply. People get pushy and impatient. We go faster, not slower. We become less kind. The consumer machine has us high and hungry. We are addicted to the rush, to wanting more, doing more, needing more. We overindulge and then feel bad about it. Quantity over quality, consuming over connection is enshrined. We are complicit and blind to the monster of our own making… and once it’s all said and done, we are depleted to the point of exhaustion often resulting in sickness.

The overculture demands our participation in hallmark holiday season at the cost of our individual and collective wellbeing. Our association to this time of year is deeply ingrained in the collective psyche making the cycle that much harder to break. It’s all many of us know, but to what end does it serve? I ask this question because I think it’s important to contemplate. We must be willing to ask the hard questions, to look at ourselves not as separate individuals, but as a collective force capable of shaping cultural change.

We each play our own part in contributing to the collective field of humanity and it’s likely that we are either unconsciously fueling the machine or consciously working to disrupt the status quo in an attempt to reimagine another way. We cannot go on living without considering the impact of our actions or inactions. We can’t go on normalizing the cycles of abuse and trauma we have all become so accustomed to. We can’t keep pretending that all of this is somehow good for us and the planet. It isn’t. As long as we pretend that we are not killing ourselves, we are only pushing our heads further into the sand.

This is the story of collective trauma and although what I have named is ugly and true, it’s not all bad. If anything, it’s the time of year we look forward to most because we are brought together with our loved ones, sharing delicious meals, stories, songs and laughter. For many, it will be the only time we come home to be with our families as one. I believe that what lies at the heart of our collective hunger is a desire for authentic connection, purpose and belonging. I see it in the way people pour hours into making home-cooked holiday meals, how willing they are to travel great distances just to be home for a few days, to go out of their way to help a friend or stranger in need, how generous many people are with their time and money directed toward causes they care about.

That is why I love hearing stories about how other families and groups of people come together during the holidays...

So many folks are dedicated to reimagining their relationship to this time of the year and to the places where they gather. Families who refuse to participate in the consumer machine by sharing experiences together instead of exchanging an abundance of gifts.

Families who volunteer together, bringing warmth, generosity and kindness to the hearts of people in greater need. Families who dance, play instruments, sing songs, play games, go for walks in nature, and connect to the meaning of this time of year. Families who get together with other families. Families who create traditions worth passing onto their children because they strengthen the fabric of community. These ideas need to be shared. We have a lot to learn from one another in terms of what is possible when it comes to creating meaningful moments and rituals of significance.

For many of us, we weren’t raised in families with deep-rooted traditions steeped in community cultures that are healthy and strong. No, for many of us, not only have we been disenfranchised from one another, but we have been severed from our homelands and folk traditions of the past. We are struggling to find solid ground because that severance is deeply tied to the violent, genocidal history of turtle island which informs where we are today.

Here on Turtle Island, we live on stolen lands in which cultural lifeways were stripped from the original peoples, and racial capitalism as we know it was built on the backs of African slaves, thus setting the foundations for what we see today: settler colonial, white supremacy. As long as we are actively participating in the racial capitalist, consumer machine the holiday season will always exist as a perverted attempt and shallow, watered down version of what’s possible unless we are willing to take a step back and critically assess the role it is playing in our lives, and to what end it serves.

Derek Jensen captures it when he says, “the essence of the dominant culture, of civilization, is slavery. It is based on slavery, and it requires slavery. It attempts to enslave the land, to enslave nonhumans, and to enslave humans. It attempts to get us all to believe that all relationships are based on slavery, based on domination, such that humans dominate the land and everyone who lives on it, men dominate women, whites dominate non-whites, the civilized dominate everyone. And overarching everyone is civilization, is the system itself. We are taught to believe that the system—civilization—is more important than life on earth.

I hope that you will join me in re-imagining what’s possible during this dark time of the year.

May the seeds of remembrance spring forth from soil of our souls so that we may return to a way of being that honors all life and future generations. May the waters of life nourish our bodies and purify our minds so that we may see clearly a new way forward.

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