Reason to Celebrate

Reason to Celebrate
by Cindy Ross

On June 21st, summer solstice, daylight hours were at a maximum in the Northern Hemisphere. Nighttime was minimized. Yes, it is now officially high summer.
"Solstice" is derived from two Latin words: "Sol" meaning sun, and "sistere-" to cause to stand still. As the summer solstice approached, the noonday sun rose higher and higher in the sky, on each successive day. On the day of the solstice, it rose an unperceivable amount, compared to the day before. In this sense, it "stood still."
As my children sped through adolescence, I was alarmed at the velocity of passing time. I decided it was important to create more ritual in their lives, build more traditions, and make more memories. When I look back through the years, the workdays and the mundane tasks of daily life and managing a household blur. What shines above are the days where we did something different, I wanted to give them memories that endured the passing of time, memories that endured our passing.
Besides the normal traditions my husband and I grew up with - egg hunts at Easter, trick-or-treating on Halloween, and exchanging presents at Christmas - we looked to the natural world for an excuse to celebrate. What more appropriate time than the solstices and equinoxes?
My husband and I are not a couple that builds our parties around alcohol or merely hanging out. We need to be doing something. So when we began celebrating summer, we picked a theme. Our first was a Native American theme. Guests were asked to come in costume, which meant as simple as a feather stuck in a braid and turquoise jewelry to fringed buckskins bought at a second-hand store or a wrapped deerskin hide.
Covered dishes included harvested wild watercress salad, venison shish kabobs, corn pone and black walnut maple cake. Percussion instruments were drummed and shaken while the kids played out a "Dances with Wolves" scene around a campfire.
Over the years, our themes have spread to reflect where we traveled that year. When we cycled Ireland, the next Summer Solstice party had a Celtic theme. The men wore plaid wool blankets around their hips as makeshift kilts, secured with diaper pins. For games, they threw a sheave of hay over a pole directly above their heads, and a 15-pound rock and a length of log (caber) for distance, feats reminiscent of the Highland Games. Prizes were themed too: bars of Irish Spring soap, tiny bottles of scotch, shortbread cookies and rolls of Scotch tape!
This past year's Summer Solstice party had a cowboy theme. My masked, outlaw teens held up guests with firecracker guns as they traveled our driveway-threatening to shoot if they didn't relinquish their covered dish.
My husband devised a game where each team had a tiny pile of kindling, an empty can, a hot dog and a few matches. Whoever got a fire going, boiled the water and cooked and ate the dog first, won. We built a "bucking bronco" out of a plastic barrel suspended by ropes between four trees. The barrel was decorated with the kids' old hobbyhorse head attached to the front, a sheepskin and horse saddle attached to its middle. While the handler yanked on the ropes, riders were timed on how long they were able to stay aboard.
Prizes that year were red bandanas tied onto the ends of hobo sticks. They contained cans of baked beans, Vienna sausages and packs of jerky. Old fashioned cowboy songs like "Rawhide" and "Get Along Little Doggies" played in the background.
As our young adult children approach fledging age, we look back and realize we have given them a rich pocketful of lasting memories to take with them and perhaps pass on to their children.
Each celebration taught them about a culture-the music, food, costumes, and the way a people entertain themselves. Sometimes the celebration related directly to the seasons, other times not. But always it was important it is to be together in the outdoors with people that meant something to them.
There's always a reason to get outside and play. Celebrating the season is fun. It can become a tradition. And you don't need to wait for the equinox or the winter solstice to give it a try.

Cindy Ross lives in Pennsylvania and has written 6 books about the outdoors. This column is distributed by Bay Journal News Service