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Garden Lifestyle

Winter Solstice Marks the Return of the Light

Although it seems like winter and cold weather has just begun, the winter solstice kicks of the Yuletide season and the return of the light with the shortest day and the longest night of the entire year.

  • Mistletoe, holly and ivy are the herbs representative of the winter solstice.
    Photo/Illustration: susan belsinger
  • Rosemary is a traditional herb of the yuletide season since it signifies remembrance. Do you remember that this plant used to be Rosmarinus officinalis? It has now been reclassified by taxonomists and is now considered to be a salvia: Salvia rosmarinus!
    Photo/Illustration: susan belsinger
  • Bring the light into your home during the winter months using candles and faerie lights.
    Photo/Illustration: susan belsinger

Although it seems like winter and cold weather has just begun, the winter solstice kicks off the Yuletide season and the return of the light with the shortest day and the longest night of the entire year. Halllujah! The last few nights have been 15 degrees F in my zone 7 Maryland, with daytime temps in the low 30s… bbbrrhhh!

The woodstove has been going 24/7 which means lots of hauling and stoking of wood. So thankful for the trees that keep our homes and bodies warm. I visit them daily; most of them are bare and naked of their foliage and yet they persevere in the freezing temps whether the sun is shining, the wind is cutting us to the quick, or they are adorned with snow or heavy with ice.

Today, I cut some greens for the beginning of the yule and tomorrow’s winter solstice celebration. I thanked the trees as I cut small branches and also picked up branches that had snapped and been flung to the earth, along with some cones from the white pine and spruce trees on our hillside. I will use these to deck the halls; these will adorn my table, mantle and be tucked here and there on windowsills and shelves. Right now, I am using tiny lights as well as all sorts of candles, celebrating and bringing the light into the house–it is warming and comforting, not to mention cheerful.

The three main plants of the winter solstice are mistletoe, holly and ivy, while the herbs of the winter yule are pretty much any of the conifers: pine, spruce, juniper, cedar, fir (from my East coast neck of the woods), boxwood, yew, and any of the holly cultivars. Of course, I add the traditional seasonal flowers: pointsettias, cyclamen and amaryllis to the mix for color.

There are three colors of candles on my Yuletide/solstice altar/table. White candles symbolize purity, cleansing and protection–purging old and unneccessary things during the winter–and of course, white is the color of snow. Green candles remind us of our green connection to all green growing plants in nature, the green spirit and represents the Green Man and Green Women/Holly King and Queen. Red candles are a symbol of our fiery sun, warmth and courage to carry on.

Although this is a dark time of year, we are moving forward into the light. Use this time of cold weather and dark days to turn inward, reflect on the past year and let go, think upon the future and set your intent for the coming year. This is a time to relax and rest deeply; make sure you allow some time to do this. Hibernate like the animals, hunker down and endure the winter season like the trees. Allow yourself time for renewal and experience down time, whether it is reading, taking naps or making soup, bread, or just enjoying a cup of tea or some hot chocolate. The new garden season will be upon us before we know it! 

I am off to an annual neighborhood winter solstice celebration tomorrow–a potluck and bonfire. I have prepared a huge pot of my veggie chili, which I have been making for years /item/62253/warming-vegetarian-chili-for-winter-solstice and have a bundle of solstice herbs and candles ready to go. A few of my herbal study friends are coming early in the afternoon and although it will only be in the 30s, we are braving the elements to take a hike in the woods down to the river (not exactly forest bathing since the trees have no foliage) for fresh air and exercise.

Here’s to celebrating the season: happy winter solstice!–and happy first anniversary to my daughter Lucie and her husband, Matt–who were married a year ago on the winter solstice! Wishing you peace, love, good health and joy to you and yours during this holiday season.

A few recent links that you might like to read:

Latest post by Guido Mase for Urban Moonshine: https://www.urbanmoonshine.com/blogs/blog/tales-of-the-winter-season

Recent repost of solstice poem by Chris Heeter https://thewildinstitute.com/wild-thoughts/seeing-solstice/

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