Table of Contents
Story: To Build a Belly Dance Temple
Introduction to the Annual Fremont Solstice Feast
For the past 14 years in Seattle, Washington, the Fremont Arts Council has put on an event called The Winter Solstice Feast. Its an exceptionally wonderful community art project resulting in an extraordinary dinner party. Its always held on the actual date of the Winter Solstice (December 21st; the longest night of the year).
Come November/December each year, the Fremont Arts Council scours the area for an available warehouse or large building to rent for the event and the preceeding days or weeks of preparation leading up to it. The neighbors all pool their resources and build an enchanting environment tailored to the parameters of whatever space is found for the event; warehouse, deserted factory building, garage, foundry. One year the event was held outside under a bridge, this year it was in a deserted Safeway grocery store!
No tickets are sold for the main event. Admission (by special and beautiful invitation more on these later) is earned through each individuals involvement and effort to invent and prepare for the festivities. Many folks line up at the door each year hoping to gain admittance only to be turned away because they did not play a part in its creation. The feast is indeed rich in creativity, imagination and motivation. It almost defies description to a mainstream society where ideas mostly come from television and the dictates of current style and fashion. The Winter Solstice Feast exists in an alternate dimension far from there. Here we find vestiges of the old Pagan world, a feeling of magical renaissance and of fairy-tale enchantments. Members of this community come from all walks of life in the outside world, and all ethnic groups participate and bring their special spices and flavors to this project. I will say these folks are arty thinking types, but many have become that way over time from living in this community and participating in Fremont Arts Council events. This event, and the people that bring it together every year make me proud to live in this neighborhood. What I love about bringing a guest to the Winter Solstice Feast, is how their mind becomes exposed and opened to the possibility of community cooperation, to the making and enjoyment of art as an activity accessible to every individual, and to the wealth of resources and possibilities lying patiently in wait around us all.
The first challenge is always to find the space. Sometimes its been secured only days before the winter solstice, but ideally 3 to 4 weeks for preparation is best. Even weeks before the space is secured, gatherings are assembled in the faith that it will all come together somewhere. Hundreds of candles are made from beeswax, with extra large wicks. These will be used to light the entire event. An invitation-making party is also held. These invitations are unique works of art, different each year, and are highly prized possessions. This year the invitation was bound with gold braid in a handmade purple envelope and a special handmade glass seal with a stamped impression of the sun. There were 350 invitations made and over 700 people including guests attended.
The event begins early. Families arrive at 6:00 pm in their special party attire with food, wine and conversations to share. Decorated headdresses are made each year as party favors for the celebration. Guests are encouraged to wear costumes. Upon their arrival each person is warmly greeted and offered a selection of festive headdresses hanging on the fragrant boughs that surround the entrance. Each year the entire solstice space is transformed into an evergreen wonderland! Banquet tables are set, laden with candles, food and drink. Every year is always a magnificent presentation.
All sorts of beautiful and profound art installations are placed around the perimeter and adjoining spaces of the main hall. Guests pass through these works of art at their leisure throughout the night. Each art work, from simple to very complex, is a creative attempt to delight the eye and to encourage those present to contemplate the ever-changing cycles in all our lives.
Bread is ceremonially broken at the start of the evening. Toasts are made through the evening. Music and soft songs are sung in the early evening and later the tables are pulled back to make way for wild music, drums and dancing with wild abandon!
In a quiet space to the side of the banquet hall you will always find the celebrated Sun King Effigy. Solstice revelers are invited to write their wishes and prayers for the new year on little rice papers and tie them into this paper sculpture. This handcrafted work of art is pyrodynamically engineered to burn quickly and without much smoke. The Sun King will be put to the torch during proceedings late in the night.
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