by Chuck Stead
Raven Brings Light to the Cramshaws
Solstice we celebrated usually between Chanukah and Christmas. The holiday of Chanukah moved around on the calendar but mostly arrived before Solstice, Christmas always came four days after Solstice. All we knew about Chanukah in our family was that it lasted eight days, which could mean a gift a day, and there was no tree involved (although there were some sort of magical candles, too). Christmas of course had the tree and wreath and the lights, and the day was a reminder of the birth of Jesus. But we also learned that the tree and wreath and even the lights were actually a part of Solstice long before Christmas and Chanukah. After keeping Solstice with Grandma Cramshaw for a few years in a row there came the particular Solstice night when she told us what she believed was the origin of celebrating the longest night with the promise that light would come again.
“In the before time there was darkness and cold everywhere. Sun had been captured by Old Man and he kept Sun locked in a box. From time to time Old Man took Sun out and warmed the place where he stayed but he would not share Sun with anyone else. No one could get Sun away from Old Man…”
Dougy asked, “But did they try?”
“Yes” Grandma said, “Eagle who flies like thunder wind, Bear, the strongest of them all, and even Weasel, so fast and small, they all tried but Old Man was a powerful shaman and no one could steal back Sun.”
“No one?” Ricky asked, his voice peaked with curiosity.
“Well” the old lady told us, “No one except Raven.”
“Raven!” Dougy squealed.
“You know Raven” she told us, “Crow’s big cousin. He and Crow are tricksters, they can shape-shift. So Raven shaped-shifted into a little seed and floated down the river. And Old Man’s beautiful daughter drank from the river and swallowed the seed and became pregnant…”
Ricky said, “And then what happened?”
“Oh she gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, who was really Raven in disguise. Old Man loved this little boy and spoiled him rotten. One day Old Man even let the boy play with Sun. Then Raven turned back into himself and flew off with Sun, fast away before Old Man could catch him. But he flew so fast that he dropped Sun into the sky and that is how we came out of darkness.”
Dougy said, “I like trickster Raven!”
Ricky said, “You are trickster Raven.”
With that Dougy jumped up and ran through Grandma’s kitchen, snatched up her Everyready Flashlight and charged out into the night shouting, “Caw Caw Caw!” The pig monster dogs jumped out of a group nap and immediately snapped and fought with each other in response to Dougy’s Raven. We stood at the back window and watched him swinging the flashlight around furiously until it slipped out of his hand, bounced away across the frozen earth and died out. Dougy ran to it, picked it up, shook it violently but it did not light up, and looked back at us where we stood watching him from the window.
The old woman said, “That boy don’t need no flashlight to bring light into the world.”