The slap of wansaks’ a traditional Chumash musical instrument made from the branch of an elderberry beats out a steady rhythm and a mix of laughing voices contrast with the drift of fog and the heavy surf pounding. A fire is built down on the beach where storytelling is taking place. Salmon is on the grill, potatoes are roasting, and the picnic table is loaded with more food.
My community is California Indian and our solstice celebration is rooted in the traditional ways of the Chumash and Tongva Tribes. For the record, I am not California Indian. I’m of mixed blood Cherokee, Seneca descent. Yet for 40 years I have lived in an area that made up the traditional Chumash homeland. I hold the culture, traditions, and history of the Chumash people in my heart. For my Chumash friends this is their heritage, their landscape of time. And for all Native people we honor the connection to our ancestors, to the rhythm of nature and our continuing deepening ties.
Anybody can begin a tradition of celebrating Solstice, and create personal traditions to make it your own. A meaningful ritual of Solstice can help us cultivate a deeper connection to nature and to all of the things that matter most to us. It’s a time for feeding the spirit and nurturing the soul. Prayers and rituals set forth a plan of life for the coming year.
For people throughout the ages, from the ancient Egyptians and Celts to the Hopi, solstice has been a time of reflection, ritual and renewal. Solstices happen twice a year, around June 21 and again around December 21. The date is not fixed, it varies.
The new solar year is traditionally honored with the earth’s seasonal foods, and it’s a time to gather with loved ones. Throughout history, celebrating the solstice has been a way to renew our connection with each other and with acts of goodwill, rituals, and heightened awareness, feeding the spirit and nurturing the soul. It’s a period for quiet reflection, tuning inward, slowing down and appreciating the day, the hour, and each moment.
While we don’t know how long people have been celebrating the solstice, we know that ancient cultures built stone structures designed to align with the sun at specific times, and in ancient times the winter solstice was immensely important because the people were economically dependent on monitoring the progress of the seasons. There was an emphasis on the fall harvest and storing food for winter.
Remembrance weighs heavy on my mind, as it does for most Native people seeking to affirm cultural identity in a high-tech world. For me there is comfort in being within a community who understand that we do not have to trade in our Indian values. Our traditions and customs carry ancient memory and cultural knowledge into our lives today.