Iliana is a winter solstice story, a story for Children’s Day
Iliana is the story of a young girl's quest for the sun. As the days grow shorter, everyone around her is worried, and no one knows what to do. Determined to save her kingdom from darkness, Iliana sets off alone to find the sun. Her adventures take her to unexpected realms where she encounters magical friends who help her on her way and, in the end, she discovers more than she set out to find.
The renowned meditation master and social visionary Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche established Children's Day in 1979 for his western students and their children. The holiday, which took place each year on the 25th of December (It was later moved to December 21st), provided an uplifted and magical celebration for children, and a way of empowering them with a sense of their own dignity, sanity and goodness.
I happened to be around when Rinpoche was arranging the first Children's Day shrine. It was a thing of beauty and playfulness. Unfortunately, we don't seem to have any photographs of that first shrine. After witnessing it's creation, I felt a strong connection to Children's Day. I remember thinking at the time that someone should write an origin-of-Childrens-Day story. Otherwise the holiday would have no narrative.
Then came Christmas 1987. Elizabeth Pybus, Rinpoche's mother-in-law, was entertaining some of her English friends and enjoying a very English Christmas dinner. I happened to be there as well. During the dinner, one of her friends ask Mrs Pybus what Children's Day was. There as a Children's Day shrine in the dinning room, so it was an natural topic of conversation. Lady Pybus turned to me and asked, "Walter, tell us the story of Chrildrens Day." Of course there was no story, but she didn't know that.
In the moment, I didn't want to say, "Sorry, there is no story." So I excused myself to the kitchen and tried to come up with something to say. I came up blank, went back to the dining room, and looked around for inspiration. There was a little toy soldier on the Children's Day shine. I picked it up and started to tell a story about this little soldier boy named Jigme who overheard his parents talking about the days getting shorter, and decided to go into the wilderness alone to fine the sun. It was very simple; it couldn't have taken more than ten minutes to tell, but it seemed to satisfy Mrs Pybus and friends. At least they were too polite to say otherwise. Later that evening I wrote down the story of Jigme on a scrap of paper and forgot about it.
The next year our family moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia. As I was unpacking, I found the scrap of paper and started to work on it a little bit. For a while it became a favorite bedtimes story for our oldest daughter Catherine Iliana. (Catherine was our only child at the time old enough really get into bedtime stories.) Over the next few years the songs emerged, the story got a bit more elaborate, and Jigme became Iliana, the girl who brought the sun home to the kingdom. In 1992 I read Iliana to the children at the Halifax Shambhala Center. The next day the father of an eight year old boy told me that when his son came home, he said, "Now I know the true meaning of Children's Day." I think that was the moment when I first started to think that Iliana might someday become a book.
In many ways, Iliana fills a need that naturally presents itself at the end of December. All the world is geared toward celebrating something, but many people no longer have much of a connection with the original meaning behind the celebration. Iliana presents an additional or alternative reason for the season. The Children's Day celebration that happens spontaneously at the end of the story, is inspiring and non-sectarian. It presents basic human values of courage, dignity, inner strength, and wisdom without entering into the realm of religion.
Wishing all a very Cheerful Children's Day,
Walter Fordham found his inspiration for Iliana in the Children's Day holiday, established by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche in the late 1970s for the children of Buddhist families. This holiday celebrates children and childhood, emphasizing that each child can be a king or queen. As a father of two girls and two boys, Walter decided to fulfill a request that had been made long ago for him to tell the story of Children's Day. Walter was born and raised in New Jersey and studied English Literature at Guilford College. He now makes his home in Halifax, Nova Scotia with his wife Joanne, where together they publish the Chronicles of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche [www.chronicleproject.com].