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Winter Solstice Signals Start of Storytelling Season

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The winter solstice inaugurates storytelling season in Indian Country. The new lunar cycle is a spiritual time for many cultures including American Indian tribes. For instance, the Zuni and Hopi commemorate the occasion with solstice ceremonies, and the winter solstice holds special significance for the Maya of Peru. This year's winter moon initiates the Mayans' year-long countdown to the end of the Long Calendar, which occurs during the winter solstice of 2012.

The winter solstice, when the Earth’s maximum axial tilt is the farthest away from the sun, occurs tonight at approximately 12:30 a.m. EST (officially December 22). For the most accurate calculation of the winter solstice time in your area, visit the UK news site Only Kent, which has compiled the exact times of the solstice around the world using the site

For Hopi poet Ramson Lomatewama, the winter solstice represents more than an astronomical event. It's meaning extends beyond its ancient impact on the sowing of crops and management of winter reserves. It is a sacred time, "filled with mystery and power, because this is a time of reverence and respect for the spirits," he told Arizona Public Radio on January 10, 2002.

On the show, he discusses how the new winter moon signals the beginning of the storytelling season:

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"The dogs work me up early. As I got out of bed to let them out, I noticed that the moon was just a thin crescent. Experience told me that the season known as kyaamuya would soon begin. Kyaamuya is filled with mystery and power, because this is a time of reverence and respect for the spirits. We’re taught to be mindful of certain taboos. Even today I tried to head those instructions. I don’t cut my hair or dig holes. Even today, I try not to wander outside after dark, and I don’t whistle, make loud noises or beat on drums.

I remember going back to the reservation this time of year and spending weekends at my grandmothers. A wood stove kept us warm. We had an old lantern that hissed and had a soft light. None of us kids dared to go outside when it got dark because it was kyaamuya and spirits were wandering out there. But kyaamuya was also the time for storytelling. I remember those nights when old men came to visit. Some of them I recognized as family; others I didn’t know. They’d eat supper with us, but well before the table was cleared, someone would ask if they could stay and tell stories. And we always passed around a yucca sifter basket filled with kutuki, the Hopi version of popcorn. Some of the stories were long and could take hours. Some of the stories were short like ones about coyote, who would fall victim to his own plots, like the time he wanted to make his tail long like the snakes, but ended up burning it off.

It wasn’t until much later that I made the connection between our stories and all those roadrunner cartoons.

I consider myself fortunate because it seems to me that the stories we grew up with aren’t being told as often anymore. I don’t think the stories have completely left us; many of them are now in print. But it’s just not the same. Maybe it’s that we don’t experience kyaamuya quite the same way anymore. Maybe the reverence that many of us grew up with has been diluted by the loud cheering at basketball games or by the attraction of Christmas bazaars. I’m fortunate because those old men knew how to plant their seeds, their stories. As I grew older, those stories took root inside of me, little by little, I grew to become the adventure, the tragedy and the journey. Now I realize that I am the hero of my own story."

Ramson Lomatewama is a Hopi poet, jeweler, traditional-style katsina doll carver, stained glass artist, and glassblower. He is the author of Random Thoughts and Other Poems.