As far back as recorded history goes, people have been planning their lives around the solar and lunar seasons. As farmers and gardeners, we depend on a ‘calendar’ based on years of experience and shared knowledge. Knowing when to till, plant, fertilize, harvest isn’t a date set on a printed calendar. It depends on the amount of sunlight, the temperature of the soil, the amount of rain, the clouds and the wind. The turning of the year based on the amount of sunlight is a major part of how plants respond. So, we celebrate the passing of the longest night and the returning sun. As the days start to get longer, we start to dream of gardens to come ….
“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow” ~ Audrey Hepburn.
The winter solstice, the shortest day/longest night, is often referred to as mid-winter, but it’s really just the beginning of the coldest winter months. For most of north America, the coldest days won’t come until late January or February. This happens because the earth and bodies of water absorbed the sun’s warmth during the summer and it takes a long time for that warmth to dissipate, even when the sun is low in the sky and the days are short.
As gardeners, the short days of winter cause us to reflect on the past but envision the future. As the days slowly lengthen, all seems possible in the upcoming growing season. So today, celebrate the quiet slow season of winter and the returning days of sunshine and warmth to come.
Below are a few ideas, folklore and traditions you might enjoy for Winter Solstice:
- Share some sunflower seeds with friends. This represents the sun but also the belief that summer will return so these seeds can be planted. In Scandinavia, sunflower seeds are scattered on the doorstep to feed the birds when the nights are so long it’s hard for them to find food. It’s said to bring good luck!
- Burn a natural candle. In colonial times, there was a tradition of burning a candle made from the waxy coating of the bayberry on the First Eve: ‘Burn a candle from tip to socket to bring health to your hearth and wealth to your pocket’. Bayberry is native to the shores of New England, so other communities would burn a bee’s wax candle.
- Flavor your favorite hot beverage with honey. Mead is a traditional wine made by fermenting honey, but just adding honey to your drink of choice reminds us how important bees are to our gardens.
- Make a solstice wreath of dry seed pods. To remind us that the seeds we harvest, give us a future garden. Here’s how: Solstice wreath https://www.finegardening.com/article/make-an-allium-winter-solstice-wreath
- Bring in some evergreens from the yard. Ivy, holly and mistletoe are traditional, but any evergreen reflects the green of growing plants (just be careful, some evergreens can be toxic to you or your pets such as mistletoe berries)
- Get up early to watch the sunrise. The angle of the sun is at its lowest and the reflection of the light often presents with a ‘halo’ around the sun.
- Check out your shadow at noon. Again, because the sun is so low in the sky, the shadows are their longest. This is a great activity for children of all ages.
- Take a deep breath, walk through the garden, around the block or in the woods. Enjoy the solitude of the special type of reflective light and sound that only occurs during the first days of winter ~ especially if there is snow!
- Decorate a tree for wildlife. Collect some pine cones, branches with berries or pieces of tree bark. Bring them home and cover them with peanut butter and bird seed as a treat for the feathered friends in your yard. Add apples, oranges, peanuts, popcorn, dry fruit. Another great project with children!
- Prepare a Kabocha winter squash. Roasted, made into soup or as korokke. A traditional Japanese dish for winter solstice. If you haven’t had a Kabocha, add it to your list of vegetables to grow next year!
Remember – The first day of spring is just 3 months away!