Literature & Exploring the Winter Solstice through Storytelling

Winter: A Time for Sharing Stories and Connecting with Community.

The Winter Solstice marks the shortest day of the year.  From this day forward the days become longer, offering more light as the months continue.  Earlier in the season we explored old Norse traditions which are connected to the celebration of the winter solstice.  This time of the year was known in old Norse as Yule – sound familiar? The expression “yuletide” refers to this season and has been adopted to signify the holiday season.

The winter solstice is an introspective celebration for reconnecting with nature and community. As we begin to stay indoors more and spend time with families and friends, the winter season is an opportunity to disconnect from technology and reconnect with neighbors and family.  Storytelling fosters this connection through intergenerational dialogue and shared experiences. 

Children are, of course, experts in storytelling and in the art of imagination.  Being cooped up inside during the winter provides ample opportunity for creative free play and storytelling.  Stories can be inspired at home through toys, craft materials, favorite books, photographs and art images. Stories are the lifeblood of the deep, dark winter.

Storytelling in Literature

Naturally, literature is a form of written storytelling;  many novels have a narrative structure built into their form.  What does this mean?  It means that some writers have chosen to convey a story through a frame story.  A frame story is a story within a story, in which characters mimic the same type of conversation that occurs in the telling of a story between a narrator and listener.  As a result, you have two stories: one is  the “frame” and then the actual story of the novel or poem.

One writer who did this was Italian short story writer Giovanni Boccaccio who wrote the Decameron in the 1300’s during the bubonic plague.  This medieval writer set his collection of short stories within a frame story.  Remember, a frame story  is like a narrator.  In Boccaccio’s frame story, the narrator tells the tale of a group of men and women who escape the city of Florence during the bubonic plague.  They flee to the countryside where they tell stories and play games.  The stories they tell are actually the short stories that make up the Decameron. Each character has a turn telling a tale, and the short stories that the reader reads are the tales these characters share with each other.

Another narrative device used by writers is  placing the reader in the seat of the listener.   The writer speaks to you the reader directly and is about to tell you a tale.  Many times, fairy tales start off this way with the famous “Once upon a time…”  Just by using that initial phrase, a story becomes a narration – a story shared between teller and listener.  Storytelling is social, it requires a shared conversation between two people.  It’s this quality that makes it different from a traditional written story in a book.

♦ Not sure how to tell a good story? Have a listen to this free TED talk playlist on mastering the art of crafting tales.

[Photo credits: (cc)  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region; (cc) Martin

Download our Nov/Dec issue of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts to discover winter holiday traditions being celebrated across the region.



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