We are assemblages of ancient atoms forged in stars – atoms organized by history to the point of consciousness, now able to contemplate this sacred Universe of which we are a tiny, but wondrous, part.
A little over a month ago, we piled our kids into the car to go watch a partial eclipse of the Sun. Our oldest son created homemade viewing glasses from safety glasses and foil wrappers, as we drove with our eyes on the horizon. When we arrived, the Sun was hidden behind a patch of clouds, but there was an opening just beneath. The kids climbed up onto the roof of the car, and we waited faithfully for the event that terrified our Ancestors to unfold. We watched as the Moon took a bite out of the Sun, and instead of screaming and huddling in fear, our children pointed and grinned and exclaimed at the marvel before them.
It does not get much better than that. Meaning is something humans seek deep within our souls. It’s a powerful gift for our children and each other. Even more importantly, meaning that is real and true is priceless. Above all, this is one of the things that we strive to give our children. It is a daily practice, learning about the Universe in all its incredible power, meditating and practicing gratitude for our part in it, and connecting deeply with the Universe, our Ancestors, our community, and especially our future.
Holidays also allow us to celebrate those powerful moments in time and space when we find meaning in the world around us. They are fun, which is part of why almost every culture creates them. The other part is more important though. Holidays tell our stories. They are a time when we share meaning with each other. On a holiday we stop and celebrate that meaning, which is why it is so hard when a holiday loses meaning, especially if it is one that we or our families have celebrated for generations or that others are still celebrating around us. Typically, families are faced with only two choices: stop celebrating entirely or celebrate the holiday anyway but without meaning.
As a parent, we found that neither choice was satisfactory. We knew our children would be surrounded by friends who would have fun holidays, and it would be experienced by them as “missing out” if we did not celebrate the holidays. Yet, the idea of going through the motions of a holiday without meaning wasted an opportunity to share meaningful time with our children.
So, instead of swearing off all holidays, we committed to celebrating only holidays that were meaningful and real. The eclipse of the Sun is a moment when we small humans become conscious of where we are in our solar system relative to the Moon and the Sun. It is worthy of celebrating. It is something that re-occurs though not always on the same time of the year, nor every year. We wanted something that communicated the cycles of the Universe, of our solar system, and especially our planet Earth. Most of all, we wanted something that connected us to our Ancestors and our humanity.
As a couple, we started with the Winter Solstice. Jon had a practice of watching the Sun rise on the day of the Solstice. It marked the cycle of the years, the journey of the Earth around the Sun. It also marked a moment in the year where our deepest Ancestors in the North watched with breaths held tight to see if the Sun would “return” as it had every year before. For us modern humans, it is also a moment to be grateful for our enlightened reality compared to our Ancestors, who did not understand why the Sun would always “return.” We then added in the Summer Solstice and the Equinoxes, marking the days that were shortest, longest, and halfway in between. Finally, we added in the dates that mark the days that were the coldest, hottest, and halfway in between. This gave us the traditional Wheel of the Year, and yet another connection with our Ancestors who marked the Celtic calendar.
We have family traditions that we have introduced and practice every year. Our children buzz with excitement and anticipation in the days leading up to the holidays, but the most marvelous thing is that the meaning of these days is 100% real to them. This year we considered celebrating the Winter Solstice on the day before the actual Winter Solstice. This was met with immediate objections from the KIDS: “But it is not ACTUALLY the Solstice!” That is the power of a holiday with true meaning.
Over the coming year, we would like to share with you our traditions. Some, you may like to adopt for your own, some not, but we hope that all of them will inspire you to create your own.
Edit: Want to learn about how we celebrate any of the 8 holidays? Here are links to each of them.
In addition to writing the Starstuff, Contemplating column here at HumanisticPaganism, Dr. Jon Cleland Host is a scientist who earned his PhD in materials science at Northwestern University & has conducted research at Hemlock Semiconductor and Dow Corning since 1997. He holds eight patents and has authored over three dozen internal scientific papers and eleven papers for peer-reviewed scientific journals, including the journal Nature. He has taught classes on biology, math, chemistry, physics and general science at Delta College and Saginaw Valley State University. Jon grew up near Pontiac, and has been building a reality-based spirituality for over 30 years, first as a Catholic and now as a Unitarian Universalist, including collaborating with Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow to spread the awe and wonder of the Great Story of our Universe (see www.thegreatstory.org, and the blog at evolutionarytimes.org). Jon and his wife have four sons, whom they embrace within a Universe-centered, Pagan, family spirituality. He currently moderates the yahoo group Naturalistic Paganism.
Heather is a parent and a scientist raising her four children to explore the world through scientific understanding and with spiritual appreciation of the Universe. She has a Master of Science degree in Physics from Michigan State University, a Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Michigan, and a Bachelor of the Arts degree in English Literature, also from the University of Michigan. She teaches physics as an adjunct instructor at Delta College, runs the Math Mania program at a local elementary school, has worked at Dow Corning as an engineer and at NASA as an intern, and she has led science outreach workshops for K-12 students through joint programs between NASA and the University of Michigan. She is a naturalistic non-theist, whose faith has been shaped by her childhood within the Episcopal Church, her adult membership in the Unitarian Universalist church, and through Buddhist meditation. She has a passion for bringing science and spirituality to everyone in a fun way, both for her own family and for the wider community of the Earth. She is a co-author with Jon Cleland-Host of Elemental Birthdays: How to Bring Science into Every Party.