Did you know that male reindeers shed their antlers in winter, and that, therefore, Santa’s antlered reindeer must be female? Well, there’s a reason for this, and the story means a lot to me. I hope I don’t butcher the tale. I’m certainly no expert in mythology, but I will tell you this story as it was told to me:
The image of Santa’s flying reindeer is a myth adopted from an ancient legend about the “Mother Deer.”
On the first winter solstice, when the world was at its darkest and in its longest night, the animals of the forest were in sorrow, believing that the sun would never rise again.
The Mother Deer – the only reindeer with antlers – so loved her children and was so grieved by their tears that a great power and strength rose within her. Determined to bring warmth and light back to those she loved, she leapt up and soon realized she had conjured the power of flight. The Mother Deer flew into the sky and searched the horizon and, eventually, she found the sun.
Cradled in her mighty antlers, the Mother Deer brought the sun back to the forest, ending the longest night of the year. She, through her love for her children, brought light back to her whole community.
I first heard this story when I was searching for light. I had realized the darkness of depression had crept too close, and I had begun a personal journey to search for the sun. That year, I started taking care of the problems I’d been ignoring too long. I saw a therapist, I stopped beating myself up with sporadic intense exercise and instead incorporated long daily walks. I took naps, I ate well, I went to bed early and woke up hours before my children, I reached out to friends and family, and I stopped abandoning myself to alcohol (4 years, Nov 2020).
I heard the story of The Mother Deer towards the end of that first fraught year, right before the winter solstice. I saw myself in the symbol. I had flown the darkness, too, and had brought back the light out of love for my family and (eventually) for myself. I decided that year that the single Christmas decoration I would add to the tree (a personal tradition) would be the Mother Deer.
On December 21st, 2017 (the winter solstice) I purchased this humble little ornament.
While this year, 2020, isn’t my personal year of darkness, I know it is for many. The world seems so cold and bleak. Collectively, this winter might be our longest night. So I’m sharing this story because I can’t think of a better time for us to consider the Mother Deer, and how we too have the power to bring light back for those we love.
Stay warm, friends.
Set in the cities and rural reaches of Alberta, Katie Bickell’s debut novel is told in a series of stories that span the years from 1990 to 2016, through cycles of boom and bust in the oil fields, government budget cuts and workers rights policies, the rising opioid crisis, and the intersecting lives of people whose communities sometimes stretch farther than they know.
We meet a teenage runaway who goes into labour at West Edmonton Mall, a doctor managing hospital overflow in a time of healthcare cutbacks, a broke dad making extra pay through a phone sex line, a young musician who dreams of fame beyond the reserve, and a dedicated hockey mom grappling with sense of self when she’s no longer needed―or welcome―at the rink.
Always Brave, Sometimes Kind captures a network of friends, caregivers, in-laws, and near misses, with each character’s life coming into greater focus as we learn more about the people around them. Tracing alliances and betrayals from different perspectives over decades, Bickell writes an ode to home and community that is both warm and gritty, well-defined and utterly complicated.
Are you part of a book club? Please consider reading Always Brave, Sometimes Kind. The author is available for virtual readings and Q&A, and has a whole page devoted to ABSK Book Club Freebies on this website!