Shortest day, long on significance
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/12/2018 (1508 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Thursday was a special day at Ka Ni Kanichihk.
There was a pipe ceremony in the morning, then two ceremonial feasts were held: one at lunch, and one for dinner. Ka Ni staff cooked food provided by community partners and fed around 400 members of the community.
“It’s our chance to give back to those who give us so much,” says Dodie Jordaan, executive director. “It’s a time to be generous and grateful.”
It’s Indigenous New Year’s: the winter solstice.
“We’ve been doing this ceremony forever,” Jordaan said with a laugh. “It’s not new.”
For Anishinaabe (Ojibwa) and Cree people, December is the time of Manito Giizisons, the Little Spirit Moon. It’s marked by the emergence of the “new” moon and the aandakiwan, the changing of the seasons.
In our traditional language you’d call this time Mii o’apii debishkaad aw manidoo, when the Little Spirit Moon is born. January is Gichi Manito Giizis, the Full Spirit Moon.
The winter solstice is where the year transitions. So, more accurately, it’s not really when things end but grow. It’s more a time about “and” then “or.”
“It’s important that we celebrate our traditions and ceremonies of when things begin,” Jordaan said, “and that we invite others to join with us to do that.”
As are most things Indigenous, the winter solstice ceremony involves food, family, and principles of community-building and, most of all, inclusivity. At Ka Ni, even Santa showed up to celebrate.
The significance of the winter solstice for Indigenous peoples cannot be understated. It’s one of the two most important dates of the year (the other being the summer solstice).
The winter solstice is, of course, the shortest day of the year. It occurs when Earth’s northern hemisphere is most tilted away from the sun (peaking at 4:23 p.m. Friday) resulting in around eight hours of sunlight for Manitoba.
From then until June 21, daylight will increase until it reaches full breadth — when it will then reduce until next year at this time. Then the entire process will begin again.
Indigenous peoples knew this for millennia. We were scientists, astronomers, and philosophers. Still are.
There are certain stories we only tell during the winter, beginning at the solstice. These are often called aadizookaanag, our creation stories.
We also marked this time using mounds and markers.
In our territory these are found in places such as the Linear Mounds near Melita, one of many spaces that relate to Woodhenge in the Indigenous city of Cahokia (in what is now Illinois). In Woodhenge, timber circles were built more than 1,000 years ago to mark when the summer and winter solstices occurred.
These had pinpoint accuracy, reflecting similar scientific principles as Stonehenge in Europe, only they were built by Indigenous hands.
Traditional peoples still return to perform ceremonies there.
Elsewhere, Indigenous peoples as far south as Mexico and north as Nunavut also celebrate the winter solstice.
The Zuni Pueblo (in what is now New Mexico) hold the Shalako Festival, a time when prayers and blessings are offered for health and abundance across the world. The Blackfeet (in what is now Alberta and Montana) turn their teepee doors towards the sun to honour the return of “Naatosi.” The Mayan (in what is now Mexico) will dance all night to honour the power and life-giving powers of the darkness.
The winter solstice is the time of birth and the time of new life. It’s the time to celebrate, feast, and give gifts to renew relationships.
None of this was inspired by faraway stories of a birth, a fat man in a red suit, or rededicating yourself to your faith — but yet it relates. There are those principles of openness and inclusivity again.
This year is especially important because the solstice comes within 24 hours of the full moon.
It won’t just be the sun that will show herself off, but a bright, full moon who will watch over and care for us during these next few days. For ikweg (women), this month’s moon ceremony will not just be the marker of a new grandmother but a new time altogether.
It’s literally the beginning of a beginning. A beautiful time.
Another word for that: sacred.
So, while we often think of the solstice as the time we bundle up, huddle in our homes, and wish for longer days, for Indigenous Peoples, this is the most important of times.
It’s the time we grow the most. We hope you do, too.
Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Friday, December 21, 2018 9:20 PM CST: Updates headline