Dec 242012

Though I loved the coziness of a fire in the winter’s dark, the reunion of far-flung beloveds, the feast of epic proportions and other shared rituals, at a certain point I had to admit to myself that the painful disappointments of Christmas far outweighed its joys in my family.  Like many commercial holidays, it was a loaded time for my family; rife with tensions, the ensnarement of obligation and, in the end, dashed hopefulness.

It wasn’t until my mid-twenties, after many sad Christmases alone, that I decided to take the holy power back. Starting from scratch, I began to build new traditions for myself, focusing on aspects of the holiday that I cherished, growing them outwards from there.

At the time, I lived in Kensington Market, a colourful enclave in the heart of Toronto populated by artists, merchants and bohemian types. Every year they had a magical parade on the Winter Solstice when the streets would fill with freaky people, bands played on the rooftops with drums and trumpets, and everyone hoisted their colourful, handmade lanterns into the night sky. The whole thing culminated in a terrible-wonderful bonfire, when we burned our precious creations and boogied-down in the snow.

I loved lighting the longest dark of the year, celebrating our endurance and honouring all that we were releasing in the fire, and decided to adopt the Winter Solstice as my new tradition. Unlike the Christian holiday, observing the ancient astronomical event made deep sense to me. While it took some time to develop a relationship with it, eventually Solstice displaced all that old tension and loss, infusing this time of year with new life and love.

Instead of buying presents, now we roast a giant bird for our friends, gather musicians to fill our night with song, light our home with lanterns and, instead of cutting down a tree my partner and I build one from scratch using bits we find on the forest floor; branches, spirals of honeysuckle and fallen boughs of fir.

Click for a step-by-step tutorial for this DIY Solstice Tree

We observe the sacred aspect of the holiday by gathering in ritual around the fire to honour our grief and our loss through storytelling moistened with tears, witnessed by those who know  – and we express our deep gratitude for the returning of the light. This year we were blessed to gather with like-hearted friends, in a gorgeous tipi they raised on their land for to birth their own new traditions.

Photograph by Christopher Roy

While there are still times when I find myself mourning what never could be in my family of origin, now in the balance the joys far outweigh any disappointments. A blessed holiday to all of you and yours!




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A writer, artist and tender of dreams, Toko-pa has been interviewed by CNN News & BBC Radio and her writing has appeared in publications around the world. Thanks to Skype, she works with dreamers internationally in her Private Dreamwork practice, based on Salt Spring Island in Canada. You can find Toko-pa on Facebook or sign up for her mailing list to receive news about upcoming events.

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  16 Responses to “Birthing New Traditions”

  1. This tapestry of heart,thoughts,love,and wisdom,touches me in such a deep,personal way…My story is an opposite,of sorts.My mother made each winter and the holidays in it a time of such joyful magic,for myself and my little brother..and many,many other children.and,to top that off,I just recently learned that,although she had a mother and 5 older brothers,she grew up in an orphanage,and never knew a holiday with family.She went Home,years ago,but the magic stayed with me,and was shared with my kids,and grandkids.Time is funny,tho,and the past few winters have been extremely tough…without my children or any grandchildren around to make magic for.But…smiling now..I know what to do,after reading this! From my heart and spirit,I thank you,for this most wonderful,wonder full idea. Ahh,something has shifted,inside my heart.So appreciative.

  2. I love the heart, spirit and “romance” you’ve built into your new traditions. It sounds lovely. I especially love the “put together” tree. What a wonderful idea! Thank you for sharing.

  3. I am inspired by the fact that you create your own tree rather than destroy one. That will stay with me. Thank you for being brave enough to start your own traditions and to share that story here.

    Peace and blessings to you!

  4. Beautiful. So MUCH my story too, and, as always, Toko-pa, so eloquently lyrically put. Would like to say that i am not ‘aboriginal’ by DNA, but totally in spirit and upbringing as a ‘country’/small farm girl turned city girl (always both), ‘bipolar’ Scorpio profoundly connected to the Earth and her rhythms and the sacredness of it all. Your work always touches me deeply, fellow earth mother/goddess ‘white’ girl 🙂

  5. Dear Toko-pa,

    Finding your site was so perfectly timed. Thank you.
    This post was especially synchronistic as this topic has been coming up a lot in conversation and thought for me.

    My husband and I are having a really hard time consolidating our desire to celebrate Christmas and other Christian holidays with our families with our desire to celebrate holidays that are more meaningful for us. Both of us were raised Catholic but are no longer part of the church. We just recently had our first child, and it seems important to show her a world of magical traditions full of song, smells, foods, and mythology (which we remember fondly), but we neither subscribe to the Christian ideals, nor the consumer-driven ones. It really makes me feel uneasy. If I could have it my way, our traditions would revolve around the seasons so that Winter Solstice was our Christmas… but this wouldn’t fly with our families, and it wouldn’t feel right if we weren’t celebrating with our parents and siblings. Like you, we will be making our own traditions, but I still wonder how I will explain things to our little ones. What will we say about Christmas? What will we say about Christ? Will we be forced to frame Christmas as a holiday that we go along with, but not by choice?

    Anyway, thanks for your post. I am inspired by your honesty. Your new traditions sound very magical, and you seem to be part of a lovely community. Also, your tree rocks!

    Warm wishes,


    • Thanks for your wonderful note, Neta! I have some dear friends who are very much in the same position as you, wondering how to straddle the differences between their own values and their family’s traditions. I am sure you’ll wiggle your way through, taking the best of both and leaving the rest 🙂

  6. I love your posts, Toko-pa. This one is especially timely since this morning at my weekly appointment with an intuitive counselor we touched on what I find special about these holidays we’re in the midst of, how I can make them beautiful & meaningful for myself, what truly spiritful things I can do with others. Considering all of this is new to me. It’s all exciting — thank you for your insightful and moving words that give guidance and strength. And thank you for sharing the really beautiful photos of your special tree – right up my alley!

  7. I read this post last year, Toko-pa, but felt unsettled by it, because I’m the mother of four children, all of whom still make the trip down to Cornwall for Christmas for a few days of playing, eating and general merriment. But reading it this year, I remembered how the way we now do Christmas came about, starting after half a dozen desperate lonely Christmases in my twenties when I was estranged from my family of origin and was living in a very remote place. My husband and I began again from scratch, deciding what we wanted for our own celebration and what we didn’t want, and a very laid-back, flexible, companionable holiday with the focus on love rather than tradition gradually evolved. You often talk about the gifts of darkness, and our Christmas was one, from the pain of exile to discovering a much better place.

  8. That last picture just did me in…beautiful inside and out. Thank you for your…as usual…personal words from your own heart.

  9. What a great idea to build your own tree. I’ve never felt good about having a cut tree, and i don’t like artificial so will def. try this out one year. Thanks. xx

  10. Really love this! It is good to know others feel bad about christmas trees! Hugs to you this soltice season!

  11. So much hope in your story— and love –thank you.

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