Planting by the Signs: Part Five

Reflecting on the Winter Solstice: Why Humans Celebrate in the Darkness

And so…it is December! Whether or not you decided to wait until the first of the month to dive into the holiday rituals, or if you’ve been at it since the day after Halloween–each to their own, I say. But in slow living through the seasons, we can learn to observe what we love about it and what nurtures and delights us, and separate that from the artificially imposed hustle that’s designed to blur the line between wants and needs, and to drain us of our time, energy and money.

We generally speak of the “holiday season” as that stretch of weeks leading into winter, from Thanksgiving through New Year’s and all that’s in between–including Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. All of these refer to specific religious and cultural traditions, which means we aren’t all celebrating the same thing. Then there’s “Yuletide,” which we commonly use as a synonym for the Christmas season, but it comes from a Norse word that actually predates Christmas and refers to the time around the winter solstice. Since all of us experience the solstices and equinoxes, despite our cultural history, I think of Yuletide as being inclusive of all beings on the planet, regardless of religion or tradition.

Last month, I talked a little about the idea of our ancient bodies–meaning that as homo sapiens, we’re biologically pretty much the same as when we appeared a couple of hundred thousand years ago. But if our bodies –our operating systems, so to speak—have remained relatively unchanged, life for humans on this planet has changed profoundly, particularly in very recent history—recent relative to hundreds of thousands of years anyway.

From just a few centuries ago when humans lived close to the land in small community groups or tribes, farming, hunting and fishing—living into nature’s rhythms because there was simply no other way—we’ve come to the present time having experienced seismic shifts in the way we live. Since the Industrial Revolution just a couple of hundred years ago, humans have experienced head spinning advancements in transportation, communication, and quality of daily life. In the last century, just think of it— personal computers, the plastic revolution, email, cell phones, TEXTING (meaning instant contact with anyone across the globe), the ability to cross the country–or the ocean–in a matter of hours–in a machine that flies miles in the air carrying hundreds and hundreds of people…and on and on

When we stop to think about all of this— we can appreciate how we are linked to our ancestors who were, in this season, feeling cold and hungry in the darkness, anxious about food for the winter and gazing at the sky in eager anticipation of that moment when the sun would begin its return. In ancient times, that was their moment of hope for survival, that was their reassurance, that was the celebration

Whatever we’re celebrating in December, whether it’s the birth of the Christ child, or the miracle of light in the darkness, cultural heritage or family tradition— the urge to gather together in feasting and celebration, seeking warmth and light, is something that connects us to the common human experience of being vulnerable to nature. Perhaps we don’t regard the winter solstice with the same reverence as humans once did, we don’t fear for our survival until the light returns, yet – how we love our twinkly lights, our candles glowing in the darkness, our fireside gatherings. I think it’s a vestige of the comfort those earlier humans felt at this time of year in the warmth and light of community, fire and food—–and perhaps it’s why —all these millenia later–it’s the time for celebrating so many different traditions.

Maybe the impulse for gathering and celebrating in the darkest and coldest time of the year is something more primal than cultural. Perhaps the simplicity of this is something that can guide us in slow living through this season. Seeking warmth and good cheer in meaningful interactions with others, enjoying good food and celebrating hope–what more do we need?

Well, there’s a big holiday machine out there that’s telling us there are LOTS of things we need to have, buy, give, experience–in order to do it right–whatever that is. Just remember that very, very few of those things actually have anything to do with the real experience of this season.

Ask yourself, what is your delight? Whatever part of the cultural celebration you enjoy, embrace it! But if you’re struggling with all that noise, just bring yourself back to the idea of humans seeking light and warmth at the darkest and coldest time of the year, and celebrating the joy of the light returning.

The winter months were also a time of rest for our agrarian ancestors. There would be no plowing during this season of long nights and frozen ground. I read somewhere that one of the origins of the wreath being hung on the door, was that it symbolized the wagon wheel that was removed during the winter months, signifying that for a time, there was no labor in the fields. Taking time to REST this month certainly seems counter cultural. How many times do we hear that December is “crazy” and everybody is busier than ever, there’s barely enough time to get ready for the holidays, etc.

But as always in slow living through the seasons, nature shows us the way. Those long hours of darkness are calling us to slow down–to sleep—”to settle our brains for a long winter’s nap” You might recognize that line from the well known poem by Clement C Moore – A Visit From Saint Nicholas

At your next winter gathering with friends, test out our favorite Peppermint Hot Chocolate Recipe. There's nothing better for an evening at home than this healthy traditional holiday classic.

Moving on to our moon calendar for the month– we are now in the waning moon with the new moon on the 12th. December isn’t going to be a planting time for most of us, but if you still haven’t planted your garlic and your ground isn’t frozen solid, we’ve got fruitful signs tomorrow through Sunday, so go ahead and pop it in! Many of you seasoned gardeners out there might be shaking your heads over this, but I’ve done it here in zone 7 with good results.

This year, the Winter Solstice occurs Thursday, December 21, at 10:27 P.M. EST, at which point the days start getting incrementally longer again. It always amazes me, in both the literal and the metaphorical sense, that in a single instant, the very darkest of times can shift in the direction of light and hope. It might be imperceptible at first, but to those observing this phenomenon, as our ancient ancestors certainly were, it is certain. I think that we must feel this somewhere deep in our ancient bodies, even though the noise and lights of our modern existence obscures this miracle— almost to the point of being ignored.

But like our ancestors, this is a wonderful time to gather with others, celebrating the fact that even in the literally darkest of night—it’s already the beginning of something new.

The new moon is in Sagittarius on the 12th. The dark of the moon is always a good time for quiet and reflection, for planning and for dreaming, but I think the dark moon closest to the winter solstice must be especially so. But again, it’s happening in the very midst of what our culture wants to tell us is the busiest time of all–when there is the most to do–so it might be interesting to think about what this means for you.

On a different note, remember how we learned last month that it’s good to bake in the waxing moon, so if you’ve still got holiday baking to do, anytime from the new moon through Christmas Day works well–but especially the 13th-15th in Capricorn, the 18th-19th in Pisces and the 22nd-23rd in Taurus.

The full moon in Cancer is on the 26th. This is the day the retail world wants to tell you it’s all over–pack it all up and go shopping for sales. But it’s the last full moon of the year, and it comes in a very fertile sign, so there is some potent energy there. Perhaps it’s a good time to get started on something for the new year. But Christmas is officially for 12 days beginning on the 25th, and Kwanzaa is Dec. 26th to Jan. 1st. So it could also be just delicious down time.

Don’t forget: if you’re a Good Dirt supporter, meaning that you’re signed up in our online community The ALMANAC at the Good Dirt member level, you’ll get the downloadable, Planting By the Signs calendar for free that you can print off every month for an at-a-glance moon guide.

But..that’s not all!

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We’ve also got it set up so that you can give this pledge as a GIFT to anyone who you feel would enjoy a membership in The Good Dirt Supporters or even The ALMANAC, our premium level community membership. We’ve got all kinds of great stuff going on in there, events, gatherings, discussion threads, discount perks and all the benefits of sharing with others on the sustainable lifestyle journey.

Check it all out here!

Wishing you all the joy and magic of December.