Today, December 21, is the first day of winter; the shortest day of the year and the longest night. Although the Winter Solstice marks Midwinter, it is a day which I look forward to, since from now on the days become longer. From this day until the first of January is a time for reflection and repose, as well as celebration.
Literally translated from Latin, solstice means “sun stands still”. During this longest night and shortest day, the sun is farthest from the Northern Hemisphere. Throughout history, people have recognized this day on the calendar as a turning point, when the sun reemerges and each day becomes a little longer. The Winter Solstice is considered the birthday of the unconquered sun and the moment of new beginnings.
Ancient rituals of the solstice were festive celebrations. They were celebrated with days of feasting, music and dancing in colorful costumes. Huge bonfires were built and burned believing it would encourage the invisible sun to return to warm the cold earth. It is difficult for us to fathom the true depths of winter as our ancestors did, they constantly felt the need to preserve light and to ensure the return of the sun.
I sure feel the need for light and sunshine-I am not a cold weather person-I am a gardener who likes warm weather so I can grow plants. I welcome this first day of winter because I know it is the turning of the season; even though there is winter cold to come… the light is increasing… slowly yet surely.
Nowadays, we light our homes both inside and out, sometimes simply with a candle in the window or a fire in the hearth or decoratively with strings of colored lights. However, the symbol of light is still the same as it has been since ancient times. During the darkest and coldest days when we spend more times indoors, we beckon the light hoping it will renew our spirits.
The solstice coincides with the winter holiday season as different folks celebrate Hanukah, Christmas, Kwanza and the new year. People round the globe prepare special dishes, adorn their homes with greenery, candles and decorations, make and/or shop for gifts and celebrate with friends and family.
Besides lights and candles, we festoon our homes with traditional fresh-cut greens and with plants of the season from pointsettias, Christmas cactus and cyclamen to forced bulbs of amaryllis and paperwhites. Right now, all of the aforementioned are blooming in my greenhouse, as well as some miniature roses and geraniums, which I brought indoors for the winter.
Besides the delightful blooms in the greenhouse, my favorite decorations are natural greens cut from conifers in and around the yard and woods. I love the scent of pine, spruce and fir in the house. I wire them together to make swags and cut them into to suitable lengths to use in containers with dried flowers, chile peppers and seed pods. I like making little vignettes and still lifes using old or special ornaments and candles and placing greens in and amongst them. I often use little flower pots with votive lights, which look natural and they are safer to place in the greenery than unprotected candles. When the candles are lit at night, they cast soft, magical light.
Once the holidays are past, the greens have pretty much dried out–I gather them in a basket and they make great kindling for the woodstove.
Wishing you and yours a happy solstice and a merry and bright holiday celebration!