Bird, Book & Bone
animism, ecstasy, knowledge, chaos

17 January 2012 @ 1am

deads, holidays, landwights

Holy Supper, Longest Night, the Lungo Drom

Honestly, I should have written this post more than two weeks ago; I officially signed up for Ms. Dirty’s Sviata Vechera challenge mostly as motivation and excuse for having a full-blown party for Yule. Instead, I ended up sailing through more than a week of party and skidded into January in need of a vacation.

But hey, better late than never. (Cue rimshot.)

Most of this post is in vague backwards chronological order, the way I remember it, peeling back the layers. Things I expected to matter barely did; things I didn’t turned out Big.

With all the thinking and angsting and wringing of hands I’d devoted to ancestry, the timing seems bizarrely synchronous. My ailing grandfather — long-term heart trouble, ironically — had been in and out of the hospital for months and was waiting on an eleventh-hour surgery just before New Year’s that they weren’t sure he’d live to see. Being halfway around the world meant there was little that I could do for my mother except call almost daily and mail ridiculous little care parcels (she loves bacon fries).

I was never close to my grandfather. For most of my childhood, they lived in England, and then moved back to the other side of the States. I saw him periodically at Christmas and found him glamorous but alien. In my teens, they moved back to my hometown and I began to see more of him. Increased exposure didn’t favor him. On a personal level, I found his politics — often voiced — repellent. The more I learn of my mother’s life, the more I realize he and my grandmother both utterly failed her. Nearly a year ago, they decided to winterize their RV instead of lend it to my parents so my father would have somewhere to live while undergoing chemotherapy in a city six hours away, which was the final straw for me after years of lesser bullshit. I’m not sentimental about family. I wasn’t heartbroken at the prospect of his death; on an impersonal, humanist sort of level, I wanted his suffering cut short already, since the surgery was just the next, painful step in a treatment that wasn’t succeeding.

Wide Open Road

It is likely narratively obvious that the surgery didn’t work. They opened him up, found there was nothing they could fix, and sent him home. The cold part of me savors the bitter satisfaction that his treatment was unsuccessful, given that he cared so little about my father’s. The rest of me wishes he’d been less alien, less grasping, less vicious himself, that I might feel more connection to the bit of him that is congruent with me. Fresh out of the hospital, at the crest of the hill overlooking the valley we were both born and raised in, he remarked on its beauty; then had a chocolate milkshake for the first time in years; then went home and, at three hours to New Year’s, quietly died. In a final hilarious twist, my father was tasked with writing and giving both the obituary and eulogy.

I don’t feel loss for him so much as I feel a twinge of nauseating humanity at the chocolate milkshake detail. I feel more like his death presages a sort of slipping, like the water rushing out of an unplugged bathtub. But that’s future; Yule was before even that. Most of December is a chaotic jumble even this close, with liquor-fueled late-night parties and rambling walks outside the village to talk to Blackthorn in the hedge, but–

I’d spent most of the waking hours of Yule solving last-minute issues with Huginn and ended up sitting a very subdued all-night vigil for the Old Man. The evening of the 21st marked exactly nine years in His service, and I’d had a grating feeling until I’d put up a lavish altar to Himself, at which point the feeling abated (two adventurous cats, increasingly limited space and a series of broken things meant most of my permanent altars are in storage until I can get a cat-proof glass cabinet or something; also it has not escaped my notice that He’s made sure it’s stayed up).

Yule Odin altar

I expected fireworks and bells and whistles to mark the occasion, but I did not get so much as a bottle rocket. After we finished our share of the bottle of homebrewed elderflower mead, I spent the rest of the vigil sitting up, bored and tired, bickering slightly with M. She wanted to go climb the local Neolithic ringfort just before dawn — the feeling had been nagging at her all day — but the prospect seemed to me to involve a disproportionately large amount of effort to observe the astronomical solstice (I wanted to observe it from bed). The thought of hauling myself through a freezing-cold sheep field and up a lumpy hill in the dark at five in the morning sounded unappealing after a long day’s work and a sleepless night of pure unadulterated anticlimax.

Alone with M. on top of a Stone Age royal fort, nine years and almost 4400 miles away from that first Yule, I felt the Old Man in the wind that scoured the top of the hill and whipped our hair and drove scuttling thin clouds across the face of the stars. I felt the length of the road that had brought me there and I was glad for it. I felt like a traveller washed up on strange shores, in a land not unaccustomed to it. We poured out our libations at the exact minute of the solstice as the light of dawn was starting to truly tint the horizon and I admit I was, in the end, reluctant to leave.

night sky

After all that, sorting out our dead supper seemed almost relaxing. The meal itself was definitely cozy — after a big meal of beans and rice, greens, cornbread and veg, my speculaas (which came out wrong by the standards of speculaas but which were nonetheless delicious) and the various sorts of middling-quality chocolates they preferred, we celebrated our deads in the sort of cardigan-wearing, low-impact way that I imagine most of them would have embraced themselves. A rousing game of cards, a glass of beer, a jolly good time. M. has a bit to say about it herself here. I actually wish I had a bit more to say about our Scots-Irish-Dutch-hillbilly dumb feast — or about the pure Irish bacon-and-potatoes dinner we had for the rest of M.’s deads the next day — but it was just a warm, friendly relaxing family dinner where everyone but M. and I were dead.

The most striking part of this year’s holiday season is that it’s the first that I can remember where we actually celebrated something close to nine straight days and properly wore ourselves out on the holidays. Our holiday period was bookended by liquor-soaked parties two weeks apart, and the middle was crammed nearly beginning-to-end with ritual, food, gifts and visitors. We actually took down the tree the day after Pajama Christmas (see, you make all the food on Christmas Eve and eat leftovers in your pajamas all day Christmas…) because we were so ready to get on with real life. Samhain to Yule was kind of flaming hell on rollerskates and we hit 2012 full-on, flush with cava and ducking to dance in the living room of our friends’ cottage, where we got shitty pop music and I finally got my fireworks.

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