Today marks the 2017 Winter Solstice and the start of Yule celebrations. It may seem odd to celebrate the darkest day of the year, but the solstice, like most holidays (including Christmas), is actually a celebration of hope; hope for the lengthening of light to come, of new life promised by the pending spring, and for the warmth that will return to the world in stride with the sun.
The thing about hope, though, is it usually involves a period of waiting. Winter is that waiting period. The word “solstice” derives from the Latin words sol sistere, which can be translated as “sun standing still.” Traditional Yule celebrants like the Celtics (Amanda's ancestral people) believed the sun stood still for 12 days, and a yule log was burned to conquer the darkness, sustain light in the world, and bring luck for the coming year.
The science behind the solstice revolves around the sun’s daily southward movement in the sky, which appears to pause on the solstice as we see the sun rise and set at its southernmost points on the horizon before reversing direction. It’s an annual astronomical turning point in the seasons.
The change doesn't just impact the length of light we receive. The old proverb says: “As the days lengthen, the cold strengthens," and for us Northern Hemisphere dwellers, it's mostly true. The cold "strengthens" because the amount of solar energy arriving is less than the amount leaving. Once the sun starts shining longer and the ground warms up again, the chill will subside. Knowing it's about to be cold for a bit, though, isn't it lovely to have a holiday celebrating warmth and light? While hot chocolate had been my winter drink of choice for warming up for years, now that we have a toddler to chase and multiple jobs to juggle, coffee is my hot, sustaining beverage of choice. And isn't it fitting for the symbolism of the solstice? Coffee warms you up from the inside and provides a little extra energy to make it through the dark and the cold.
We're big fans of symbolism around here. Brandon's family comes from the Germanic Alsace region of France, some of the original Yule celebrators, and my own family branches down from predominately Scottish and Irish immigrants, also solstice celebrants. While I've always been interested in the history of holidays, I wasn't so invested in seasonal observation until we installed a backyard garden. Once we were beholden to seeding instructions (greens in cool, fruits in warm, lavender seeds in fall to overwinter) and measuring soil temperatures to plant bulbs, I felt more aware of the seasonal shifts than I ever have before. I used to lament that the seasons felt like they were speeding by as I worked indoors 100% of the time, but after becoming a gardener, I realized that summer wasn't over just because school went back into session as we continued to harvest greens, radishes, and winter squash up to Thanksgiving, and that winter wasn't a "dead" season, it is a sleeping season of necessary rest and rejuvenation (my geraniums are thankful I've had this revelation; they're getting their first winter rest ever out in paper sacks in the garage).
Now, the snow is falling on Commerce City as I type with coffee - of course - in hand, and I know that our soil is resting, the compost we spread atop our garden in fall is breaking down into the ground to replenish our homegrown food in the coming season, our bulbs and lavender seeds are loving their necessary "cold processing" before they're ready to wake up in spring (they won't grow without the cold), and the snow will saturate the soil with groundwater to keep the roots of our trees and our grasses alive. And us? We're enjoying the snow with our daughter, keeping warm inside as we decorate our Christmas tree - an evergreen, symbol of eternal life - and enjoy the early onset of darkness for the extra rest it provides before the coming spring. Maybe we'll even keep a little holly hung by our door year-round for luck.
From the Boldenow family to yours, we wish you the happiest of holidays, whichever (or however many) you celebrate. If you're still in need of a last-minute gift to share some warmth, we are roasting beans tomorrow for pre-Christmas delivery for locals, so be sure to get your order in by tomorrow morning.
If you need further suggestions, the team over at Fiction Unbound wrote a holiday gift guide comprised of our favorite books, and there's not a bad choice among them. Hot coffee, snow, books, and a celebration of hope and light? Yes to all, please.