When I planned my trip to Portland, I intentionally gave myself a full week in town before Christmas. I wanted plenty of time to relax before the holiday frenzy took over. I knew that I wanted to spend some of Scott’s post-Christmas week off with him. And I wanted to do my damnest to attend Tess’s Solstice Party.
Tess is a woman that my parents have gotten to know through the Portland Unitarian Church. She is a landscape architect, does peace action work with my dad and lives in the most glorious home I’ve ever been in. And once a year, she throws a giant party to honor that darkest day, as well as the slow return light that will soon occur.
It’s a potluck and people bring their most seasonal, delicious salads, casseroles* and baked goods to share. There’s always cheese board with a selection of three oversized wedges. You’ll find wine, juice and sparkling water in the breakfast room off the kitchen. Guests take turns washing dishes, as the forks and glasses run out.
A fire crackles in a squat black stove. There are artful stacks of books on tables and in corners. In place of a tree, Tess arranges birch boughs in a giant vase and runs strands of white lights in and around the pale limbs.
At the mid-point of the party, Tess asks for attention. She rolls up the rugs, hands out candles to those who didn’t bring their own and turns off all the lights. Candles are lit, one by one, as people share words on why they love this cold, dark season. A musician performs (this year, it was my dad). Then we extinguish our candles and return to the merrymaking.
I aspire to someday host a party like this one.
*We brought this potato and squash creation. In spite of the fact that the cheap, grocery store Gruyere I bought didn’t melt like it was supposed to, the dish was still scrapped clean.