Every year on the evening of Dec. 21, people gather in Toronto’s Kensington Market to celebrate Winter Solstice with a festival of fire and lights. I have attended several times. This year I went with my partner and two daughters. It was a mild and rainy night, so the crowd appeared a little thin, but the weather did not dampen anyone’s spirits.
Drummers and giant totem puppets impart a Native Canadian flavour to the proceedings, but they are not by any means the only forms of music, ritual and spirituality present. Activities commence with droning instruments, drumming circles, fire blowers and dancers putting on a show in the heart of the market. Then a parade proceeds slowly past various performance art presentations around the village. Shadow puppets are a common sight. So are decorative lanterns which celebrants make at home and bring to join in the festivities.
The event is co-ordinated by Red Pepper Spectacle Arts, a not-for-profit community organization based in Kensington Market.
For me participation has less to do with religious observance than a practical ritual. Winter solstice ends what tends to be the most difficult time of year for me, and this autumn was a particularly heavy one. Henceforth the days will grow longer and my spirit turns upon a different leg of the journey. January is a usually good time for new goals and undertakings.
The winter solstice provides an excellent venue to restore a sense of vigor and connection with a community larger than one’s self.