CABB’s 2021

April 12th Challenge

EXTRAORDINARY VOICES

MY FIRST WINTERFEST

by JoAnn Baca

For Teresa

Father keeps me in his wardrobe, tucked among his treasures: Vincent’s baby moccasins, a hair ribbon that was once worn by the woman he was married to Above… Was I the first of my kind? I think I was. But whether I was the first Winterfest candle ever made or just one of the first, I guess it doesn’t much matter now. I was there, with him, at the first Winterfest, and likely the only one left from it, which makes me special nonetheless. For there’s hardly another person Below or Above who was at that initial celebration and, among those few, who else might have saved a candle stub? Because back then, any bit of candle was too precious to waste. Jacob broke a rule to keep me, which makes me even more special!

You ask me how I came to be? It was Anna’s doing.

Before she came Below with John, she had been a research scientist. Hardly a talent needed Below. And as a result of her single-minded approach to her vocation, she had no practical skills that might be useful to her new community: she couldn’t sew, cook, can, or bake, nor did she have enough strength for long days of breaking rocks or clearing debris, nor expertise with plumbing, bricklaying, or carpentry. So she applied her scientific mind to finding a way to contribute meaningfully to the new world they were creating.

She evaluated the most persistent problems experienced by everyone Below. There were many, but one stood out: it was pitch-dark where they were. Light was essential. But batteries were expensive for the few flashlights they had. Finding an alternative that was workable within the limited means of their small community Below meant going back to basics. Candle-power. Since no one else Below had that particular skill, she began to teach herself to become a chandler.

Her early candle-making efforts were rudimentary. But their candles didn’t have to be perfect or beautiful, merely functional, so even her first efforts were well received. And gradually she built up her skills. Then came a new challenge: Winterfest.

Simple candles for everyday use were one thing. But a celebratory gathering to thank those who had helped them survive their first winters Below demanded something special. Anna had little in the way of extra funds to work with – most of what they had was going towards food for the gathering. So color was her best option to add a festive element.

Her first idea was the standard red, white, and green of Christmas, something often seen Above during the winter holidays. But this was their first homegrown holiday Below. Did they want to mirror larger celebrations Above? No.

Research had always been Anna’s bailiwick, so she slipped into the New York Public Library and scoured the card catalogs for help. That’s when she found an old treatise on the meaning of candle colors. Discovering their meaning led her to selecting the colors that would ever after represent what Winterfest meant to all who would attend.

How do I know all this? Word of mouth, of course! Anna talked to others as she worked, while dipping us, and I heard the story from her own lips. It made me proud to learn what we stood for:

White for peace and truth

Yellow for confidence and bringing plans to fruition

Orange for joy and strength

So she dipped us in those colors – just a small number that first Winterfest, a few dozen for the seekers and bringers of peace and confidence and strength.

They lit us all, one by one, in a dark hall, each candle tipped to ignite the next, until we pushed back the darkness with our commingled light. I remember Jacob staring at me as I burned, making a quiet vow that only I heard: Whatever happens, whatever comes…we will endure.

He and I have been to every Winterfest since that first one, did you know? He slips me into a pocket before descending the stairs to the Great Hall, and he pats me every so often to show me he remembers when we were both younger and taller and ready to bring more light to this world. He watches the dancing and I listen to the excited chatter. I can’t see the happy faces, but I know they all glow in the light of my descendents.

He has kept the faith of my colors: striving for peace and truth, confident in his ability to help the community grow and prosper, keeping his belief in the people he serves strong and his heart joyful.

So now another Winterfest has passed, and he has yet again tucked me away to await the next. I, too, feel joy and peace, confident in the way of life which I have been a small part of all these years. For Winterfest isn’t just a celebration, it’s a feeling. It’s what this community and its Helpers believe in, what they carry with them and work for every day. And Jacob remains true to the promise he made to me those many decades ago: whatever happened, whatever came…they have endured.

1 Comment

  1. A wonderful story, we can learn more about Anna, what she was like, the origins of Winterfest, and about Father, who keeps candles among his greatest treasures and carries it with him every year to the celebration and still keeps his promises. I enjoyed it very much.

    Reply

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