Winter Solstice

Whatever path you choose to roam, the winter solstice is a crucible, a pivot for past and future. We are, after all, birds and bears, fattening up and digging in against the winter storms. It took me many moons to discover the importance of respecting the imperatives of the seasons.

Winter says to me: get more sleep and dream time; stay close to your hearth, literal and figurative; hold loved ones close, be they near, far or departed; consume the stores of your imagination; map the coming year and find your guiding star; respect the mystery of melancholy; honour your rituals; bear witness to the magic that lives in darkness, especially a winter night sky pricked by stars.

For the many years that I lived in Kensington Market, its annual Winter Solstice Parade punctuated the season. Across the street through a garden gate and entrance of a run down house, I could see the giant papier-mache puppets of the sun and moon that would come to life on December 21st. On that night I would hear the drums of Shadowland and run out to the street to see a rag tag posse holding aloft the sun and moon, stilt walkers, people in top hats, feather boas, fairy wings, holding paper lanterns, roaming the neighbourhood and collecting more of us until we came to the park. There an effigy of Old Man Winter would be set alight, sparks flying through the steely air. Every year on that night we were one, we were timeless, and it was magic.

In October I got a message from Laurel Paluck. “Annie Annie Annie … we got to have a Winter Solstice processional through town this year don’t we?

So we began to create the Light Hunters’ Promenade to celebrate the longest, darkest night. Kathryn Bahun showed us how to make paper lanterns. We held workshops so we could teach others. At Atelier Ludmila, now in the Roy Studios on Hunter Street, we built big animal masks out of papier-mache, costumes and flags from materials we had at hand. Local actors performed the roles of the Old Woman and the Star Child, the Deer, the Bear, the Fox, the Raven and the Wolf. Generous local businesses sponsored us. Old Men Dancing joined us in commedia dell’arte masks and David Bigg brought his djembe and big fur hat. Someone played a cowbell. Someone wore a giant eyeball mask. People brought lanterns, their kids, their dogs. In the courtyard of Peterborough Square, the Peterborough Academy for Circus Arts spun fire for us.

A man came with two children and I overheard him ask Laurel, “Why are you doing this?”

“It’s the Winter Solstice,” she replied.

“I know that,” he said, “but why are you doing all this?”

Because it’s beautiful. Because it brings us all together. Because it connects us to nature and our human history. Because it gives us an experience of joy and wonder.

For many years I had longed to help make an event like this happen in Peterborough. And  finally, in 2016, at least one good thing happened.

Because, in the face of darkness and uncertainty, it will keep us true.


All photos: Andy Carroll

Performers: Hermione Rivison, Carolyne McCarthy, Michael Morritt, Gilliam Turnham, Shelley King, Naomi Duvall, Natacha Girouard, B. Leigh Macdonald, Laurel Paluck, Janette Platana, Nathan Govier

%d bloggers like this: