There has always been more than a little pagan in me. Even in the ways I express Christianity. I am in love with the ritual, the artifacts, the candlelight, the songs and the scents of worship. I am in love with the night air, the light in darkness, the boot-quaking awe, the promise of a new day to come.
While many seek to separate the Christian celebration of birth from the ancient tradition of Yule, I relish the chance to give thanks for my hope and heritage at once. To worship the spirit that is in all things, and see it represented by starlight and angel-song and blood-on-snow and blazing suns. There is no paradox for me.
And so it is that this year – our year – we create our own tradition. The twenty-fifth belongs to family, an unspoken winter-starved need for kin. The solstice itself, however, is ours.
In one sense it is the carefully curated combination of two childhoods. An exchange of gifts beneath our first real tree, bedecked with memories and meanings. Breakfast bucks fizz and salmon, followed by a frost-patterned stroll. Cooking together in Christmas jumpers to Carols from Kings, Bing Crosby, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Danny Elfman.
In another sense, it is our first chance to choose the spiritual gifts – of Christmas and Yuletide alike – that we wish to honour in our lives together. We make it a day of memory, of photographs and poetry. We fill it with hymns of glory and thanksgiving. We make it a night of firelight, of incense, of spiced wine and sacrifice. We walk hand-in-hand from the altar we call home to the line where sea meets stone, crouching to let the saline chill envelop our fingertips – creation’s uncompromising blessing.
And in the dead of the night, we follow the amassing crowds – families, lovers, friends, those who have lived and loved in Brighton all their lives and those who drove in just for today – to the bonfire on the beach.
There a tall, translucent creature in a corviform mask and a wide-brimmed hat ushers the lantern-bearers onward.
Each of a thousand tiny lights combines, conjuring a torrent of vivid flame against the world’s black waters. We watch in silence for a while, pressed together against the cold, arms outstretched to feel the warmth of the gathering blaze before a flurry of fireworks turns the world on its head.
We drink in the noise and the light and the ashes of time itself that fill the air like snowfall.
This is our ritual, in its infancy. A tradition in the making. The ancient, the modern and the transient joining together to meet us where we are, and at its center? Love. Hope. Joy. A magic deeper than our own. The cornerstone of worship.