In today's story, Winter Solstice, a teen pushing back on childhood traditions leads to a wider view of the world.
Today's prompt was inspired by the Winter Solstice, which will occur on December 21 in the Northern Hemisphere. There are many ways to celebrate the longest night of the year. It's also interesting to consider what's happening on the other side of the world.
More about Susan Quilty
Susan Quilty mainly writes novels, including two standalone novels and her current YA series: The Psychic Traveler Society. Susan's short stories for Freely Written are created during quick writing breaks and shared as a way to practice her narration skills before she dives into recording audio versions of her novels.
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Below is the transcript for Season 1, Episode 79 of Freely Written, a podcast by author Susan Quilty:
Welcome to Freely Written where a simple prompt leads to a little unplanned fiction.
[Light piano music]
Hi, friends! I’m Susan Quilty and today’s prompt is Winter Solstice.
This Wednesday, December 21st marks the Winter Solstice. The shortest day and longest night of the year. At least, in the Northern Hemisphere. If you’re listening from the Southern Hemisphere you’ll be celebrating the Summer Solstice. And I have no idea how any of that works for people who think the earth is flat.
As always, I’m writing today’s story from a prompt, with no planning and very little editing, before recording and sharing it with you. Though maybe this thought about Northern and Southern Hemispheres will now creep into whatever I write…
Let’s see how the story goes:
Every year, Sylvie’s family celebrates the Winter Solstice with the same after dinner ritual. They sit around the table with three sheets of paper.
On the first piece of paper, they write down a happy memory from earlier in the year, or draw a picture of it, and then take turns sharing with the family.
The second piece of paper is to write or draw something they’d rather forget about that year. Maybe an embarrassing moment or a regrettable mistake. That paper isn’t shown. Instead, it’s torn up and tossed in a metal bowl at the center of the table. Then they step outside and burn all the scraps of paper, watching the smoke blow away on the wind.
For the third piece of paper, everyone writes or draws something they are looking forward to in the coming year. It can be anything at all and can even be a few things. That paper is also shared in turn.
When Sylvie was young, she loved this winter ritual. It was a fun way to mark the longest night of the year. Especially since they followed it up with lighting sparklers outside, then coming in for hot chocolate and cookies.
Lately though, Sylvie’s parents had become weird. They were always saying embarrassing things. Or wearing embarrassing clothes. Or asking embarrassing questions.
Sulking through dinner, Sylvie knows her parents will ruin this year’s Winter Solstice with awkward questions and jokes. She can already hear them asking if she’s looking forward to the junior prom, just to see if she’s dating anyone. And there’s no way she can tell them her real happiest moment of this year. It would be too weird.
Sylvie says nothing while clearing the plates and tries to slip away before her dad pulls out the big metal bowl.
“Where are you going?” her mom asks, already sounding hurt. “It’s the Winter Solstice!”
“The Winter Solstice is stupid,” Sylvie grumbles, keeping her eyes on the floor.
“Since when?” her dad asks.
“Since always,” Sylvie answers with crossed arms.
Her parents look at each other silently, and Sylvie scowls. She knows they are judging her and wishing she was still a little kid who did everything they said.
“You always seem to have fun,” her mom says carefully, and it’s the carefulness that sets Sylvie off.
“None of my friends celebrate this stupid day! Can’t we just celebrate Christmas like everyone else?”
Her voice is loud and angry, surprising them all.
“Not everyone celebrates Christmas,” her mom tries again, sounding even more cautious.
Sylvie presses her lips together, hating the worry in her mom’s voice.
When she doesn’t say anything, her dad tries to join in, saying, “There’s Hannukah, and Kwanzaa, and Boxing Day…”
“I know all that!” Sylvie snaps. Her whole face feels red. She wishes she hadn’t said anything but doesn’t know how to take it back now.
Her parents look at each other again. Her mom biting her lip, and her dad furrowing his brow.
“Let’s just do this stupid thing,” Slyvie says, flouncing to the table dramatically. She takes a deep breath, feeling like her arms and legs are suddenly too long for her body.
When her parents come over, they set the metal bowl in the center of the table but hover near their seats. Sylvie glances at them, wishing they’d just sit down and be normal so maybe she could shake off this mood and feel normal, too. But she doesn’t say anything.
After a long moment, her mom says, “It’s not the Winter Solstice in Australia.”
“That’s right!” her dad adds brightly with a snap of his fingers. “It’s the Summer Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere.”
Sylvie looks at each of them in confusion. She sort of knew that, from science class, but it sounds really weird.
“So, wait…” she blinks twice, thinking it through. “Australians celebrate Christmas in the summer?”
“I guess so,” her mom says, easing into her seat and handing out three half-sheets of paper.
“We can look it up,” her dad suggests, quickly pulling out his phone. “Yep, it says Christmas in Australia is towards the start of the summer school break. And on Boxing Day, families often go to the beach.”
He sits in his chair and angles his phone for Sylvie to see. Sylvie’s mom puts a handful of markers in the center of the table and smiles gently.
“That’s… weird,” Sylvie says, after looking at the phone. “What’s Boxing Day again?”
“December 26th,” her dad answers promptly. “The day after Christmas. It’s a British holiday, I think. But I guess they celebrate it in Australia, too.”
“And Canada,” her mom chimes in lightly.
“But what is Boxing Day?” Sylvie asks more insistently. “I mean, is it like giving people boxes or the day you throw out the gift boxes from Christmas?”
“I think it’s just another holiday to spend with family,” her mom suggests, and Sylvie nods, thinking it might be nice for grown-ups to get a second day off, since her parents usually have to go right back to work after Christmas Day.
“The internet says it started as a day off for servants,” her dad announces. “You know, since they worked on Christmas, and their employers would give them a Christmas box to enjoy. I guess with food and gifts and stuff.”
“And money?” Sylvie asks. “I bet they’d like to get some extra money.”
“Probably,” her dad says, setting down his phone.
“But if it’s summer now in Australia…” Sylvie begins slowly, still puzzling through an idea.
“And in all the Southern Hemisphere,” her mom reminds.
“Right,” Sylvie agrees, then stops again. She doesn’t want to admit that it feels funny in her head to imagine that it’s summer on one side of the planet and winter on the other. The same way it feels funny to think that people on the other side of the planet are upside-down… unless she’s the one who’s upside down…?
“It’s kinda weird to me,” her dad says suddenly, snapping Sylvie out of her deep thoughts.
“To me, too,” her mom admits. “I mean, I know how it works and all, from the science side, but I’m so used to it being winter in December.”
“Exactly,” her dad agrees. “Though, we could go to Australia next year and celebrate two Summer Solstices. Skip the longest night of the year entirely!”
Her parents laugh, but Sylvie shakes her head emphatically.
“No, that would be too weird!” she decides, then reaches for a marker. “Besides, then we wouldn’t get to do our Winter Solstice thing.”
Her parents smile gently and reach for markers of their own.
Thanks for joining me today. The Winter Solstice ritual in this story has been a tradition in my family, maybe you can give it a try, too!
As an indie author, I deeply appreciate all of you support. If you enjoy Freely Written, please share it with friends and leave a review wherever you listen to podcasts.
I would also love for you to check out my novels. Books make great gifts, and the ebook versions are perfect for last minute digital giving. You can learn about my books on my website: SusanQuilty.com. Links are in the show notes.
Happy Holidays! And… Until next time, try a little free writing of your own. Let go of any planning and see where your imagination takes you.
[Light piano music]