I’ll be starting off 2018 taking a new yoga journey with Adriene Mishler of Yoga with Adriene, and wanted to invite everyone along. I started 2017 with the Yoga Revolution, and I’ve talked before about how that literally changed my life. Now I practice yoga nearly every day using the Down Dog app or just a personal home practice, but Adriene will always be my number one yogi bae.
She has an amazing way of making you feel like you’re already doing it and like you’re guaranteed to succeed. You literally can’t do it wrong when you’re following along with her. If you ever thought yoga was too hard or you’d never be able to get in that pose, give her videos a try. She’s great at offering modifications and getting you to trust your body. I can’t say enough good things about her and really about yoga in general.
No matter what day you start, it doesn’t matter, just jump on the wagon whenever. If you’re new to yoga or if you’ve been practicing for years, I’m certain there will be something here for you.
The videos start January 2 and will be posted on her YouTube channel, and if you sign up, you’ll get a daily email of inspiration. If nothing else, even if you’re not into yoga and don’t plan to be, starting a daily practice of anything that’s actually dedicated to you and your wellbeing is, I think, a great way to start out a new year. If you’re looking for something really easy to start out with today, consider starting here:
If you join up, let me know how it goes. You can do this!
Winter begins today in the northern hemisphere, though being so close to the equator it certainly doesn’t feel like it. Tampa was a VERY balmy 70 degrees F by the time I went outside at 6:30 this morning and the high was 80. But the winter solstice is not necessarily about the cold, but about darkness, the shortest day, and the longest night.
Winter solstice falls during Yule from which most of our modern Christmas traditions come. Both holidays have a history of ghost stories and things that knock on your bedroom window in the night. Yule, like Halloween, is thought to have been a time when the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest. The dead, or draugr (a term I’m co-opting for a fantasy novel), could walk amongst us, sometimes taking part in the Wild Hunt which, if you see, you may be spirited away to join. Glimpsing the Wild Hunt could also be prophetic of coming war.
One of the creepier accounts of this death march through the sky comes from 1127 when an abbot, Henry d’Angely, was appointed to a monastery in Britain. Apparently he was terrible and witnesses said the following went on through to Easter:
Many men both saw and heard a great number of huntsmen hunting. The huntsmen were black, huge, and hideous, and rode on black horses and on black he-goats, and their hounds were jet black, with eyes like saucers, and horrible…and in the night the monks heard them sounding and winding their horns.
But perhaps the concept of dark, vengeful spirits is only the bastardization of a more positive procession of lost gods and goddesses through the sky, who only wish to bestow good will. Faerie folk taking to the sky, welcoming the rebirth of the sun.
While a horde of demonic hunters is pretty frightening, what chills me a bit more is the concept of The Stranger. During Yule, you may be visited by an entity, wearing a human visage or perhaps not, seeking shelter. Accounts report The Stranger being met in the street, looking mostly like a man, but not quite. Sure, he wears the clothes, the skin, even the smile, but there’s something hollow there, something missing. That’s The Need, and he is searching for someone to help fill a void.
Other stories tell of an incessant rapping at the door or window, but no form on the other side when answered. You’re advised to invite the unseen into your home, offer it a place at your table and a means to keep warm that night. In this case, opening your heart to the wandering may bring you luck. Good or bad, I’m unsure.
Tomorrow, the days begin to grow, the sun is reborn, and though half of the world will plunge into the coldest weather it will see all year, the promise of spring is on the horizon. But tonight we’re in that limbo, and if you linger long enough at a crossroads or in a doorway, be sure to try and catch a glimpse of the other side. Or not.
For me, well, the cats keep mulling about the front door and cocking their ears at a sound I can’t quite make out. At least, I don’t think I can. So I’m off to investigate.
It’s no secret that I am areligious. In fact, one of the most common jokes I make (or is made about me) is that I worship the devil. Of course, that is not a form of not-religion, but good luck convincing most people of that.
While I would like to believe there’s something greater out there, I fully admit I could never understand what that is, so while I do strive to be a better person and to try and make sense of life, the universe, and everything, I don’t prescribe to any set of rules or named deities.
That being said, I do have a nativity scene up for Christmas. Or, more specifically, a crèche, because that’s what my family always called it and my grandma was really into French for whatever reason. I cleared out a bookshelf at eye level in the great room area, and set up the figurines in the same way they were always set up when I was little. I don’t do this because I believe in Jesus Christ’s divinity, and I don’t do it to honor “the reason for the season” despite my stance. I unpack the box marked “manger” every year in someone from my family’s handwriting, this crazy sturdy, old box that’s been moved from state to state with staples all up and down its sides, and lovingly unwrap each king and lamb and angel because it’s the one constant that I’ve always had at Christmastime, and to me this crèche represents joy and goodness and hope.
So here’s what I was told about this set. My great uncle, so my maternal grandmother’s brother, collected the pieces one by one in the 1940s. I’m fairly certain the barn piece itself is not from that time, but the figures each still have the pencil marks on their bottoms with the price (between 5 and 15 cents). This story has always enchanted me.
First, when I was very little, I couldn’t imagine my great uncle ever being young himself, but when I got a bit older, I put myself in his shoes, trudging out into Boston’s winter, almost unimaginable to a child who had never even seen snow, with just a nickel in hand to the corner drug store to buy a single lamb to add to the collection.
I wasn’t allowed, or able, to touch the crèche when I was very small, as it was kept atop a hutch that typically housed other fancy breakables, but once I could reach it, I would play with it. I remember doing so in secret at first because I knew I shouldn’t be touching something so old or fragile, but I was always a careful, quiet kid, and quickly everyone got over it.
No one ever indoctrinated me into any religion throughout my life, and for that I am entirely grateful, but there was some “Christianity is the right one” background music. I mean, obviously, we had a nativity scene up and were celebrating Christmas, but I didn’t really know who Jesus was. My actual focus was on the animals. There was a long stretch of time I wanted to be “a farmer” when I grew up because in my head that was a person who just owned a bunch of animals and pet them all day, and the crèche was like my mini farm. It had sheep, and cows, a donkey, and even a camel! And my loose understanding of Jesus, deeply influenced by animated Christmas specials, was that the animals came to see him, and to me that was very similar to a Disney princess which was another aspiration of mine. Princess Christ, if you will.
When I was eleven and my mom and I moved out of the house I had lived in my entire memorable life with my grandparents to Ohio a thousand miles away, that first Christmas was pretty hard. It was nothing like the ones that had come before, except the crèche was there. It was always there.
It was there when we lived in that first city in Ohio when we started fresh and I finally started making friends, and then it was there when we moved less than twelve months after that to the most rural place I’d ever seen. It got put up in the tiny one bedroom apartment we lived in for a couple years, and then again put up in the house my mother built with her own fucking hands on seven acres where we actually did have real live cows. And then when we were forced out of the house and back into those tiny apartments, it was put up again. It saw me cry, it saw me go through a phase where I actually did believe in Jesus and so badly needed him to believe in me, and it watched that belief slowly fade away.
And now that I’m again a thousand miles away from the people I grew up with, including my mom, the one Christmas constant I have is this scene of the birth of the messiah from a religion I don’t follow, collected by a man who’s no longer alive and I hadn’t spoken to for at least a decade before he died, and passed down through three generations to a heathen. But despite everything it carries, it gets to look out on a different me, a married me, a happy grown up me, and even though I don’t hold what it represents literally, it is certainly a beacon of hope and joy in this house.