The earth had been changed now and there was little left of the Autumn that had only a few weeks early covered the land in a kaleidoscope of golden and red leaves. Winter was now dancing in the air cold and sweet. You could sense a tingle of energy that comes from that special magick found during the great changing and within the coming of Winter Solstice. Not yet December, Epo’o Aeneva Nahko’e, The Gray Lady of Winter, had been leaving Her secret signs and soon we would have the arrival of the first blanketing snow.
My Great Grandmother had been watching the signs for winter for weeks. Even in the summer she had noticed the caterpillars with their heavy wool and how the animals had begin to lay up food earlier than normal. We would have an early snow for sure, as well as a cold winter and a white holiday.
The day of giving thanks and remembering the ancestors had passed. So I knew that soon we would be preparing for the Winter Solstice and that meant decorating the house for the winter holidays. I loved the winter. Walking into town with my Great Grandmother to buy special treats for cooking and sometimes a store decoration or two for the tree. The streets were decorated with colored lights and with sparklingly tinsel and everyone seemed to smile at you. Since my Great Grandmother was know as a Witch and Conjure Woman even then, not everyone smiles when we passed, in fact they often looked away or crossed to the other side of the street to avoid us. So the smiles were very magickal to me.
I also loved how my Great Grandmothers house felt alive and warm in the winter. In the evenings as I lay on the braid rug in front of the fireplace watching the sparks fly up the chimney it was like I could feel the house breathing. I loved the sounds of the cold wind whistling through the trees, the fire crackling and popping as my Great Grandmothers rocking chair creaked on the wood floor as she rocked. Then there were the smells. The smoke sweet on the air mixed with the aroma of hot bread in the oven. I especially loved the way fragrance that would fill the house when we first put up our tree. The fresh sent of evergreen would overflow into every room. The excitement I had for this time of year, for the winter season and for the winter season would cause me lots of trouble when it come to trying to sleep.
It was now into December and only a few days before the Aunts would be coming for the great celebration. The celebration of calling the Sun back unto the world winter solstice. I was always thrilled when the Aunts came. But this year I was even more excited, because I got to pick out and cut the tree down myself and decorate it. Before I had been to young and small but now at ten years old, I was old enough to be trusted to go alone and bring home the tree.
It seemed like I must have awaken hours early that morning. I couldn’t sleep because I knew that today I got to go and get the tree and I was so anxious to do a good job and make my Great Grandmother proud.
Finally I heard my Great Grandmother stirring around in the kitchen getting ready to make breakfast. I jumped up out of bed and got dressed as quickly as I could. I ran into the kitchen breathing hard and looked at my Great Grandmother cutting out some biscuits and putting them in the pan. She must not have remembered what today was because she didn’t seem excited at all.
After a moment she turned and smiled saying. “Will my little one, I see you are ready. Are you sure you want to go alone and get the tree?” “I can do it Mam, ma.” I happily answered. I was glad that she trusted me with this most important job. But mostly I was glad that today was finally the day.
We ate our breakfast as my Great Grandmother reminded me of how I must be careful. How I was doing a very important thing by picking out the tree, cutting it and bringing it home. As big as I was, I need not get carried away and remember it was not for myself I was getting the tree. The tree was for everyone as a reminder that winter would be ending and the Green Earth Goddess would be returning. I tried to listen to everything she was saying, but all I wanted to do was finish breakfast, get my new ax and go cut that tree. And I was going to make sure it would be the most perfect tree anyone had ever cut.
It seemed like forever, but finally the morning had pasted, the chores were done and my Great Grandmother gives me permission to go. Finally, it was time. I bundled up putting on my coat, gloves and hat before I carefully took my small ax in hand. My Great Grandmother told me again where I could go to cut the tree and to be extra careful. “Not wanting to have to sew my leg back on instead of putting the tree.”
I begin walking down the path, past the barn, through the pasture to the edge of the woods. The sun was sparkling bright and felt warm even though the ground was frozen hard. I walked until I had reached the back pasture and there I could see all acres of evergreen trees and one would be that perfect one of my choosing.
I think I must have walked hours from tree to tree, back and forth until I picked out just the right one. But no, that one was too small; so I would start again. No that one was to thin. Over and over … then I at last found the perfect tree. It was a big, beautiful, perfect tree. So carefully, as I had been told I begin to cut it down. My arms hurt after a while and I had to rest and remove my coat; I had gotten so hot. Again I would chop and take a break until, after what seemed a long while the tree fell. I was so excited about cutting it down that I could hardly wait to get it home.
I put on my coat and begin to pull; it was hard since the tree was big and very heavy. I pulled and tugged and pulled again but I only moved the tree a short distance. The tree was too big. I am sure that the ones that my Great Grandmother and I got together were not bigger than this one. But there was no way I was going to be able to get this one home all by myself. Frustrated and angry, I sat down on the frozen ground and begin to cry.
I must have been extremely tired because after a while I jumped up realizing I had fallen asleep. I got up off the ground and slowly walked over to the tree to figure out what I needed to do next and how I was going to get this big, beautiful, perfect tree home. That is when I noticed that there was something different about the tree. It was smaller than before, I am sure it was. As I looked around I saw on the ground beside my ax a pile of winterberries, picked and placed there so neatly for me to find. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I believed it might have been the Earthen Creatures.
My Great Grandmother had told me many stories of the Earthens, the creatures of nature that watch over the forest and help Great Goddess take care of Her children. They have many names but we always called them Earthens. Is that what happened?
I took a minute pondering over everything as I ate the berries, leaving three as a thank you to the Earthen Creatures. Getting my energy and determination back I walked over to the tree and give it a big heave and pull. It moved, it was still heavy but I had no trouble pulling it back home along the path. As I got the tree back of the yard I could see my Great Grandmother watching out the window of the house for me. The sun was setting and the house light seemed to have a warming glow to it. I proudly pulled the tree up to the back porch for my Great Grandmother to see. She told me how wonderful it was and how it was just the right size. Then with a gentle smile she asked me, “did you have any trouble, little one?”
As I looked into her dark eyes smiling at me, I couldn’t wait to share my story with her. So I told her of all the hard work, and of the struggles trying to get that big, beautiful perfect tree to move, and I told her of how the Earthens had brought me berries and keep me safe. And I told her of the wonderful dream I must have had because when I woke up, everything was okay. She gives me a big hug and kissed my cheek saying, “will my little one, now you have your first winter solstice story to share.”
The next night the Aunts arrived and I was so excited to tell them everything that had happen when, I, all by myself cut the tree. Soon the Aunts were telling their stories and together we carefully decorated the tree. The sweet and marvelous evergreen smell filling the house. We put the Solstice candle on a small table and readied the house for the great celebration to call forth the sun. For me this was all a part of the enchantment and magick that made the season wonderful.
To this day I still love winter and the holiday season. I look forward to the first snowfall and the sounds of a fire crackling and popping. Sometimes as the pleasant aroma of smoke drafts across my spirit I am sure I can hear my Great Grandmothers rocking chair creaking as she rocks back and forth in my heart.
The magick we find in this time of year and this holiday season does not come from the name we attach to it or the date we choose to celebrate it on… It comes that part of ourselves where we allow believing. That is when our hearts can find the true magick within all things.