Memory of the Solstice fades. The comfort of those longed-for days of lessening light, increasing night.
I love that time of year – but then, I’m one of the lucky ones. With a home, heating, and warm clothes. A plentiful supply of tealights to dot around the house, making ‘hygge’ of the shadows.
Last year, before the Solstice, I made a seasonal decision.
Strange, isn’t it? A casual tick of the clock can change our past, our present and our future. Turn one into the other.
It’s possible I feel it more than most. Three days sit between me and another year. Deduct my year of birth from 2018 and I’m a year older than I ‘really’ am for 362 days.
But I’m ceasing to care about such things, if not about winter. I revel in winter.
I used to revel in Christmas, but not any more. Which is why, last year, I decided to celebrate the season, not the feast.
Christmas has always been, for me, both a Christian feast and a season of traditional celebrations. Of holly and ivy and evergreen trees. Of handmade decorations and fairy lights. Of presents carefully chosen.
A time for carols and seasonal music – medieval, Baroque or Steeleye Span. Even, yes, Slade.
Twelve days. Well, fourteen, actually, beginning on Christmas Eve.
Each year, ever since I took the bus to school as a child, I’ve harrumphed at the ever-earlier start of the Christmas jamboree. Trees in windows, frantic displays of ‘fairy’ lights, inanimate menageries and blowsy, blow-up Santas popping up in gardens.
In 2017 it began in mid-November.
And Advent. Advent was once a time of preparation. Of saving. Of planning.
Now its calendars are a commodity to be sold for maximum profit. Things of greed and consumption. Where once they were tallies of daily anticipation. Awaiting baby Jesus – or possibly Father Christmas. And presents.
But there’s no turning back that clock. Christianity is surplus to modern requirements, as the Beatles presciently concluded way back in the 1960s.
Last year I decided to devise a way of coping. I needed to use the brain cells ranting colonises for more productive thinking.
So, as the days grew shorter, as the sun sank ever further south, as technicolour sunsets turned skeleton trees stark black, I took myself in hand.
I decided to pretend that the blinking lights, the eerie white reindeer and everlasting icicles, the mince pies and shortbread and bottles of Prosecco, were tools for coping with winter. For those who loathe long nights, or short dreary days.
And I chose to celebrate winter. Which has its own duration. Not one ordained by a church. Or a song.I visited dank woods and smelled the raw damp air, scented by fertile fungi and wet, rotting leaves.
Trailed sedate fairy lights around the indoor bannisters, along the balcony rail and over one of the trees.
I made no mince pies.
I made no rich ‘black’ Christmas cake (as normally is my wont).
I made no Christmas pudding, nor brandy butter.
We watched seasonal films. Star-gazed on sharp clear nights. Ate venison and red cabbage. Parsnips, carrots and Brussels sprouts. Roast potatoes. Figgy ice cream. And fish. Not all together, of course.
And on the fifth day of what once I kept as Christmas (and is my birthday), we ventured forth to one of my special places. To the Temperance (bring your own wine) Inn, near Sedbergh on the Cumbrian border with Yorkshire.
The inn looks out on Cautley Spout and the common land of the Howgills. Melodramatic whatever the season or weather.
And seasonal weather we had.
One day the mighty fells crunched with treacherous ice underfoot. Another they hid, dredged with snow, falling and settled. Latterly, muddied with melt, the green and brown of the living earth won out. And all in the space of just four days.
We spent a happy, wintry time. Next door to a stable, warm with a donkey, cows and sheep. Scented by hay and animals.
We sat by the fire. Read and talked.
Watched small birds – like robins – while eating hearty breakfasts.
We visited Long Meg, her standing stones aligned to catch the Solstice. (She witnessed it when we were still far away. What she saw, she wasn’t telling.)
Well, that was last year.
And now? We’re celebrating winter still, till Candlemas (though without the fairy lights).
I hope you, too, are enjoying this winter tide. Whether yours is a world of snow and ice, or sun and heat or wind and rain. Or all those things, I suppose, in this climate-lottery era.
And thank you, my online friends, for reading.
My very best wishes for a happy, healthy, rewarding new year to you all.