In a season brimming with celebrations, we sometimes overlook the granddaddy of them all- Winter Solstice. Predating most current religious holidays, the shortest day of the year was once a great annual event marked by feasting, gatherings and drinking. Now, with a resurgence of popularity in recent years, you can enjoy Winter Solstice almost everywhere, with celebrations that run the gamut from reflective to raucous.
Just in case your recollection of astronomy basics is now as dim as say- a distant galaxy- here’s a quick explanation of this seasonal change: In the northern hemisphere the earth tilts to the most distant point away from the sun in mid to late December (December 21 this year), resulting in the least amount of daylight hours. In the southern hemisphere the same event occurs in June. Or more cleverly expressed: “axial tilt is the reason for the season!”
The seasonal change for us can mean the inconvenience of going to work and returning home in darkness, but our ancestors marked the annual cycles for survival. The mating of animals, management of crops and rhythms of weather were life-sustaining. The encroaching winter was a time to preserve the autumn harvest, decorate homes with evergreens to ward off evil spirits and symbolize the coming spring, and ferment beer and wine for the long winter ahead. So it’s no wonder that on the longest night of the year, the communal gatherings included ceremonies of light, hope and renewal.
This winter, whatever your style, you can include a conscious celebration of nature and community in your holiday line-up. Catch the solstice spirit in big events like the Winter Solstice Lantern Festival in Vancouver, where over 20,000 hardy Canadians brave the long winter’s night in a light filled celebration of hope, or join a reflective solstice sunrise observance at Stonehenge. Or if you find you’ve had quite enough of the season’s bustle, you can brew a steaming kettle of tea-infused wassail and share a pot-luck supper and a warm fire with a few close friends.
Usage license for both images – CC BY 2.0
Winter Solstice Wassail Tea
Prepare tea with 1 ½ cups of water, steeping for 5 minutes. Strain and set aside. Combine ½ cup sugar, cinnamon and cloves in 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Discard the spices. To the spiced water, add the juices, cider, tea and 1 cup sugar. Stir in 5 cups of boiling water and heat until the wassail is piping hot, but not boiling. Serve in mugs garnished with orange slices or cinnamon sticks.
Wassail was originally a hot mulled cider drunk as an integral part of wassailing, an ancient southern English drinking ritual intended to ensure a good cider apple harvest the following year.
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