By: Tanya Ward Goodman
A few nights ago, in the dark, snowy cold of New Mexico, a group of women stood around a bonfire and asked the light to return. It was Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, the tipping point when spring becomes a little more possible than winter.
In the city, it’s hard to notice this longest night because the sky is always bright with city glow. It’s hard to worry about winter or anticipate the arrival of spring because here in sunny So Cal, it’s always a kind of spring, but in New Mexico, where I was born and in other parts of the world, the ground is lost beneath a thick layer of snow and there is no imagining that anything as soft and green as grass will ever grow again.
My mother and her friends bring the light back every year. They gather to eat and talk and drink wine. They exchange silly gifts they call “White Elephants,” and eventually head out into the yard to stand around the fire and look up at the stars. They invoke the names of their mothers and the mothers of their mothers. They ask for a peaceful new year and form with their circle, a kind of bubble of hope. They bring back the light.
This tradition started when I was a kid. I remember my mother leaving the house to be with “the women.” I remember the first time I was invited to join them. At first, I was a little shy in their company. It was surprising to see my Girl Scout leader drinking wine and telling dirty jokes, to hear so many strands of “grown up” conversation, hard to think of something to say, but it was comforting to be in the warm house with the dark night all around.
At that first bonfire, my mom held my gloved hand in hers and spoke of her mother and her mother’s mother and also of her pride in having her own daughter. Her words warmed me as much as the fire.