Best of WNY.com
Wild Things…
WINTER SOLSTICE
By Karen Vizzi
   To most people, the Winter Solstice marks the shortest day of the year. But to the gardener, it marks a turning point when daylight hours begin to lengthen …and we can look forward to a new growing season.
   Many of our holiday customs are derived from very ancient forms of celebration. Candles, Yule Logs and tree decorations all have fascinating origins. Central to many of these old traditions was the celebration of the Winter Solstice, which falls on or around December 21st. In the old days, agriculture was the mainstay of life and people celebrated this turning point in the year because it represented the “return of the sun”, and consequently, their livelihood. Many wild gardeners still celebrate the Winter Solstice today as a way to honor the beauty of nature and to complement their religious celebrations. A Solstice celebration can be as simple as lighting a candle and observing a moment of thankfulness, or an elaborate party, depending on how many of your friends are willing to embrace the spirit. In my house, we celebrate the Solstice as kind of a kick-off party for the rest of the holiday festivities.
   A Yule Log is one idea very representative of the old tradition, but you can make do even if you don’t have a working fireplace. You could select a piece of tree that has been cut, but it is preferable to use a log or thick branch from a tree that died or came down naturally. Decorate the log with ivy and ribbon, surround it with candles for symbolic burning and use it as a table centerpiece. Be sure to light lots of candles and let food play an important role in the event. Treats made from preserved garden harvests, nuts, grains and herbs are very meaningful and a delight for guests.  And don’t forget music! There are several great holiday CD’s on the market that are actually titled “Winter Solstice” and provide a soothing background. 
   If you really want to go all out, stage a brief ceremony in the garden itself. Have several guests ceremoniously scatter some birdseed and herbs, while someone else reads a brief poem or short holiday story. Don’t forget to recognize the strength and perseverance of the wildlife that keeps the garden alive throughout the winter. A few years ago, we did this on a Solstice night when a magical, soft snow was falling. Although my guests were happy to get back inside the warm house, it really made the party a lot of fun. You can make your celebration as solemn or as fun as you’d like …the only limit is your imagination! 
   For some people, gardening is just a hobby but for the wild gardener, it can be a spiritual experience. I celebrate the Winter Solstice because it reminds me that out there in the dark and under the snow, are the seeds and roots of beauty, new life and new beginnings.

 
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