Out of This World

There are many symbols for this time of year. There's the Nativity for religious Christmas, and Santa and Rudolph for secular Christmas. A menorah for Hanukkah, and--according to Friends--there's the Hanukkah Armadillo who delights kids with tales of the Festival of Lights. Kwanzaa and Los Posados have candles and light, too, but no talking animals or other caricatures fit for wrapping paper, plush dolls and costumes. Winter solstice doesn't have its own mass-marketed, kid-friendly face, either, but it could. Let us introduce SunMan. He's cute, he's shiny, and he won't burn your retinas if you look directly at him. But he does symbolize the power of light that burns even brighter after the darkness of winter. And we think he's just the thing to get even more people interested in the ancient tradition of winter solstice, when the hunters and gatherers stopped their hard labor and could finally kick back and enjoy the fruits of their labor (quite a contrast to how the holidays make us busier now). We mean, if a huge festival with hundreds of people coming together in joyful noise each year won't attract attention, then maybe SunMan will. If you can't beat the commercial appeal, then join it, right?

This is the 11th year that Amy Martin and her Celestial Rhythm Celebrations have honored traditions of light and dark with Winter SolstiCelebration. This ceremony of earth-based beliefs and rituals started with a couple of hundred people gathered at a venue on White Rock Lake. Then it moved to the First Unitarian Church. When the celebration outgrew that place, it moved to its current home at the Cathedral of Hope, the gay and lesbian congregation at Cedar Springs and Inwood roads.

But Winter SolstiCelebration isn't just for people who mark "other" in the religion box on census forms. Though 65 percent of the participants in last year's demographic study consider themselves "earth spiritualists," which includes Native Americans, pagans, Wiccans and more, between 10 and 15 percent are Christians, who supplement their biblical beliefs with a love of the earth. The rest of the pie graph is filled with Buddhists and, Martin says, people with their own systems such as "The Church of the Imaginary Friend."

All of these find a place in Winter SolstiCelebration. The rituals, performances and traditions draw from many different belief systems. The main speaker this year is Lama Dudjom Dorjee, who will be accompanied by members of the Karma Thegsum Choling Tibetan Buddhist Center performing Sanskrit chants translated into English. There will also be dancing, drumming, poetry, storytelling, video and the saying of names of those who have passed. But the highlight is when the three days of the solstice's dark period are condensed into three minutes of complete darkness and silence followed by "bringing back the light" with an Egyptian temple fire dance and the audience participating by turning on their flashlights (candles became too messy with the wax cleanup). The service ends with drumming, dancing and passing through sun and moon gates, which, Martin says, can be a little overwhelming to newbies who aren't used to 700 people divided into two circles dancing to primitive drumming. The calm returns when everyone grabs slices of bread and cookies that have been made by participants and other benefactors and sits in the cathedral to literally break bread and talk, making the one time a year that many solo-practicing spiritualists get to spend time with other like-minded people. Grab a flashlight, bake some cookies and dress in celestial clothing to go with the cosmic theme, and experience a noncommercial holiday treat. As Martin says, after a decade, they still haven't managed to make money yet.

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Shannon Sutlief

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