“Winter is the time for storytelling,” Emma Needham said on a recent episode of Minnesota Native News. “The cold, quiet time indoors offers an ideal time to entertain and educate children in communities.” Needham was in conversation with Hope Flanagan, storyteller at Dream of Wild Health, who agreed, saying “So much of the culture is deep in the stories.”

Many cultures use winter as a time to tell stories. This is why every year at the Winter Solstice Bonfire, a storyteller from a different cultural background is featured. In the past, different performers have shared music and stories from Irish mythology and Native American tradition, while this year Kari Tauring and Carol Sersland will be sharing stories and songs of Nordic Solstice.

Today, we want to look back on how this tradition started and what guests can look forward to at this year’s Winter Solstice Bonfire on December 20th.

Imniza Ska Dakota Drum Group performing in 2022.

First Storytellers

The tradition of storytelling and music at Belwin’s Winter Solstice Bonfire can be traced back to the very first Bonfire in 2016, when Crow Bellecourt and Robin Day-Bedeau performed, teaching visitors winter dances from Cree and Ojibwe traditions. Susan Haugh, Program Director at Belwin, was struck by the performance. “The performance led me to seek out and feature storytellers and musicians rooted in the many cultures found in our region.”

Crow and Robin returned the following year and was joined by other performers. Angie Hong, who was in attendance for that first Bonfire (and took the picture below), wrote beautifully about that night in her blog East Metro Water. “The evening started with a short drum performance from Crow Bellecourt and Robin Day-Bedeau, two Ojibwe musicians,” Hong writes.

“After the music, storyteller Erika Rae shared a touching tale of a little girl named Estrella (Spanish for star) who loved sunshine and the prairie. After the story, Bellecourt and Day-Bedeau urged us to hold hands and dance slowly around the circle as they played one last song into the clear, cold night.”

More Performers

In subsequent years, the Bonfire featured many different performers including Impossible Salt, a Swedish performing arts troupe, and Ikidowin Youth Theater Acting Ensemble, Indigenous youth who performed traditional Indigenous stories and their own spoken word pieces created for the winter.

Attendants of last year’s Bonfire will remember the Mac and Cheese Band, who shared rousing music and storytelling from Irish mythology. “Despite the really really cold weather, the Mac and Cheese Band had everyone in great spirits throughout the night,” recalls Angie Eckel, Belwin’s Development and Communications Director, “With the warmth of the fire and their high-spirited performance, I felt completely transported.”

Before the Mac and Cheese Band played, Imniza Ska Dakota Drum Group performed a welcoming song and a song celebrating the Solstice. The Drum Group will be returning to begin the festivities this year at 7:00 pm and will be followed by Kari Tauring and Carol Sersland who will be sharing winter stories and music from Nordic culture. In the artists own words:

“The cow horn blows prayers for peace into the nine worlds. Bells sound in the dark. The raven searches for food in a barren landscape. A song to Sunna, Norse goddess of the sun, brings light back into our hearts and minds.” We can’t wait to hear this performance around a roaring fire.

Other Activities

While the performance is going to be amazing, there is a lot more to experience at this year’s Winter Solstice Bonfire. At this year’s event you can enjoy the following:

  • Watch the bonfire get lit at 6:00 pm.
  • Take a guide night hikes led by a Belwin naturalists. Night hikes begin at 6:15 pm and are offered every half hour. They will be led by naturalists Jim Rue and Lynette Anderson.
  • For families with children 5 and under, you can enjoy a special night hike at 6:15 pm led by Jenny Hanlon (Stillwater Early Childhood Family Education).
  • Enjoy a meditative walk in the Prairie Labyrinth.

We hope everyone can join us for this year’s Winter Solstice Bonfire on December 20th from 6:00 to 9:00 pm, with live music starting at 7 pm. Join us at the Lucy Winter Bell Athletic Fields (15601 Hudson Rd N, Afton, MN 55001). Parking is $10. This event is not accessible for people in wheelchairs or walkers or canes.

Learn more about this year’s Winter Solstice Bonfire here.

The fire being lit at the Winter Solstice Bonfire, 2022.

Further Reading

Winter Solstice Stories and Traditions Around the World

The Winter Solstice Begins a Season of Storytelling and Ceremony

Winter Storytelling Traditions

Arts, Culture, and Ecology Education Events Seasonal

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