This Friday, December 21st, is the Winter Solstice—the shortest day of the year; the first official day of Winter; Yule.
The days, which have been getting shorter and shorter each day since the Summer Solstice, now will begin getting longer by a minute or two each day.
Many cultures around the world have celebrated the Winter Solstice. In Ireland, dozens of people selected by a lottery are invited to the Newgrange Monument to watch the sunrise on the Winter Solstice. Newgrange is a Stone Age monument which has a special chamber that is aligned with the sun as it rises on the Solstice. At dawn, the chamber is filled with sunlight for about 17 minutes. More than thirty thousand people apply for a spot every year, but only 60 are chosen.
In Japan, the Winter Solstice tradition is to start the New Year in a warm bath filled with a citrus fruit called yuzu—supposed to help keep you healthy.
In England, of course, thousands of people gather at Stonehenge to welcome the Solstice or in the town of Brighton, where people parade with hand-made lanterns which are then burned in a huge bonfire by the sea.
In Scandinavia, the Feast of Juul is held on the Winter Solstice, with bonfires to celebrate the light and warmth of the returning sun.
Here, in America, it’s pretty much business as usual, except for people like me who keep a little calendar on their desks showing sunrise and sunset times every day because I can’t wait for long warm days to go outside and play in my garden again.
In the meantime, I have my collection of houseplants to satisfy the gardener in me. In a couple of weeks when I bring the first of my amaryllis out of dormancy, I’ll have them to watch. Of course, right after Christmas when 2019 dated seeds come in, I can feed the gardener in me by reading seed packets and picking out my favorites.
And, of course, this would be a good time to actually make a list–what did well this year, what didn’t do well, what to plant more of, what to plant less of. Note to myself: order a tiny bit less rain next spring!