Join me on a journey to rediscover ancient traditions, seasonal living and wellbeing practices. A theme for each season. Winter: resting, Spring: planting, Summer: abundance and Autumn: harvesting. We will explore them literally and metaphorically.
I will post in line with the Celtic seasonal calendar (approx every 6 weeks) but there will be no link to the previous post. I want to avoid people feeling that they 'have to catch up'. So if you miss a season or two just start right from where you are.
If you enjoy my scribbles, please share them with those you think would like them too.
Falls between 20-23 December marking the shortest day of the year and heralds the return of light as we tilt back towards the sun. But the age old celebration is a double edged sword.
The suns rays are currently dispersed and hitting the earth at a shallow angle, therefore we are not feeling their heat. Plus as the nights are long and days short this prevents the earth warming up. In addition the warmth of the summer has been ebbing away. So the worst of the weather is yet to come, as temperatures continue to fall, bringing ice and sometimes snow.
There will now be little growth in the natural world and it has in the main retreated. Flora and fauna has turned within, is resting and conserving energy until it is time to emerge in spring.
Take your cue from nature. Embrace the concept of hibernation. Nurture yourself and take some time to loll about and daydream.
Accepting that darkness is in the natural order of things for balance, can help us navigate this time and brings about a greater appreciation for light. Our ancestors knew this and many cultures have a winter celebration around this theme that features candles to provide light and warmth in the darkness. Regardless of our faith or lack thereof, we can use the winter solstice as an opportunity to pause and renew. Take a moment for reflection to cherish what we have and to give thanks for blessings that we have received during the past year.
In the UK the most prominent celebration is Christmas and a number of traditions practised stem from ancient customs.
- 25 December was celebrated as the birth of Sol Invictus the Roman god of the sun. This date is now associated with the birth of Jesus Christ, although it is widely accepted that this was not the case.
- Yuletide. Within the Nordic celebrations, a log decorated with evergreen boughs, holly and mistletoe was burnt in the evening. The ashes were scattered over the land to encourage fertility (the ancients wouldn’t have known this but wood ash raises ph levels in soil). The French came up with the confectionary version of the yule log that often graces tables alongside Christmas cake.
- Egyptian, Roman and Celtic cultures all brought evergreen boughs into their dwellings, as they were thought to be magical because they were very much alive when everything else had seemingly died.
- Wreaths: Holly was the sacred plant of Romans and during the midwinter festival of Saturnalia, they made small wreaths to exchange with friends to represent the cycle of the year. It is said to invite happiness, balance, success and luck for the coming year.
- Mistletoe: Druids used to cut mistletoe with a golden sickle on the 6th day of the new moon after the winter solstice. Known as ‘all heal’ it was a powerful talisman for healing, kinship and fertility (which is why we kiss under it).
- Ivy: traditionally used to dispel negative energy and welcome love and abundance.
- Yew trees: are thought to have represented death, rebirth and continuity. They were planted by our ancestors by burial grounds and sacred sites. Which is why they are often found in church yards, as ancient churches were built on pagan sites of worship.
- Winter is a hard time for those in the community who have less. Traditionally gift giving provided a means to help them survive the winter.
Over the years gift giving within our household has become obsolete. We have a pledge to give an annual December donation to the local hospice that many people in our community have utilised, because they struggle with fund-raising at this time of year. And last year following the fallout out from the pandemic across various facets of life, we decided to put money aside each month and donate to various causes throughout the year. We gave to around eleven. It will now become one of our new traditions.
Money is a form of energy. Sending money to charitable causes creates vibrational positive change, for both the recipient and the giver. The amount is inconsequential it is the intention behind the deed that matters.
- Gather things from outside. Ivy, heather, snowberries, rosehips and holly can be tucked into existing festive decorations.
- Pop fallen branches into vases.
- Arrange pine cones and yew cuttings into a bowl.
- If there are apple orchards nearby seek out mistletoe (but you’ll need to ask the landowners permission to gather some).
- Get crafty; make snowflakes from your printer paper, or leftover wrapping paper. And homemade crackers with loo roll inners, brown/wrapping paper and tie the ends with string.
- On little pieces of paper, write down the blessings that you have received this year and burn them in a fire with gratitude. If you don’t have a log fire use a BBQ (but don’t spread the ashes if using coals). Or simply use a candle.
- Prepare a meal with seasonal produce.
- Have a toast with mulled cider, spiced apple juice or mulled wine.
- Have a festive film night.
- Write some letters to post and bring joy in the new year.
- Bring things out of cupboards and set up little ‘pitstops’ for moments of calm and joy throughout the home on worktops and tables. In these areas place things that are of interest to the household and don’t take long to enjoy e.g. magazines…the whole thing doesn’t have to be read, an article will suffice. Poetry books. Puzzle books. Coffee table books. Quick games. Paper and pen for doodling. Building blocks. Plus hand cream and balms, alongside a tea bar with a little selection of herbal teas and a jug of water with tumblers - to hydrate inside and out. And perhaps best of all, a bowl of sweet treats.
- Wrap up and go for a walk, take a flask of something warm.
- Night skies are generally clear, therefore perfect for start gazing. If you can, for a magical experience drive somewhere with low light pollution. I’m sure you will be in awe.
- Don’t just save looking up for the evenings…what is going on in the sky in the day time? Four types of clouds to discover more about and look for during winter are the altostratus, nimbostratus, stratus and stratocumulus.
Activites for January
- Make sure you switch off from ‘doing’ for at least 5 minutes each day and spend time in ‘nothingness’ such as listening to calming music or gazing out the window day dreaming.
- Make some time to engage in a hobby.
- Try your hand at candle making to bring light and warmth into the house during January and February.
- If you have one, plan what you’d like to do in the garden. If you don’t consider what you can grow on your windowsill. An amaryllis is a lovely flower that is low maintenance…
- Seek out some decorative stones, shells or small pieces of wood.
- Take a tall glass jar that is 5cm wider than the bulb, place the stones/shells/wood at the bottom and sit the bulb on the top.
- Water sparingly little and often just to cover the roots.
- Make a bird feeder…
- Cut the lower part of a juice or milk carton at a height of around 4cm, give it a good clean and make a hole through the bottom.
- Thread string through the hole and tie a knot to secure.
- Melt lard in a pan, add bird seed and bind. Ratio lard to seed 1/3 to 2/3.
- Pop mixture into your container, with string running through it.
- Harden in the fridge.
Out and About
- Sunlight is low and weak
- The moon appears to be at its highest and clearest.
- Stars are at their brightest.
- Gardens and landscapes are beginning to look bare.
- Deciduous trees are skeletal but lichened branches, mosses and fungi give them a pop of colour.
- The berries of the yew tree are now gleaming red and ripe. As are holly berries (it is only the female holly plants that have the berries).
- Rosehips, hawthorns and rowan are still providing a food source but they will soon be on the turn.
- Fluffy seeds of old man’s beard are drifting in the wind and the spindles that we saw at Samhain are just an outer husk now that the seeds have been released. Both will settle until it is time to germinate.
- Look past the bare branches, trees are already in bud patiently waiting for spring and catkins are visible too.
- Ivy flowers are fading and giving way to black berries providing food for birds as we move deeper into winter.
- Make a concerted effort to listen out for birdsong, it is getting quieter. Although if you have a resident robin, it will be singing loudly to hold its territory.
- Murmurations reach their peak now.
- Rooks are easy to spot, look for their large nests atop the branches of bare trees.
- Gulls, herons, coots, mallards and swans are still out and about.
- On mild days you may see ladybirds and wasps.
- Make sure there is fresh water for wildlife when water sources are frozen over.
- If a harsh winter, leave out bits for birds. If mild leave out bits for mammals that may come out of hibernation to look for a bite.
To sleep, flee or feed:
There are three forms of sleep;
Hibernation: triggered by day length and hormone changes. Hedgehogs, dormice and bats fatten themselves up, then seek out a sheltered place that will have a constant temperature. Their body reduces its metabolic rate and a very deep sleep commences until spring returns. If we get a spell of mild weather during winter it can trick hibernators into rousing from their sleep too soon which can be fatal if there isn’t enough food around.
Brumation: a deep sleep that is interrupted periodically to allow urination, the seeking out of food and water, then a return to sleep. Activities are undertaken using as little energy as possible which is a balancing act when there is a need to search for food.
Torpor: a light sleep triggered by temperature and food availability.
Insects and invertebrates find hidey holes and lie dormant. These include five species of butterfly; toiseshell, peacock, comma, brimstone and the red admiral. The latter now tends to overwinter in the UK rather than migrate as our weather has become milder.
Birds that don’t migrate need to maintain their body weight through winter. This means eating 1/2 to 1/3 of their body weight every day to survive. If we have a harsh one, provide a helping hand providing seeds and nuts. Out in the countryside, birds will forage on fallow seeds which is why it is important that wild meadows and hedgerows are left intact and not continually destroyed to give way to intensive farming.
Now is a time that you will see birds that are usually alone or a pair, such as long-tailed tits and pied wagtails, roosting together, seeking safety in numbers from predators. It also means they conserve heat by huddling together.
Scavengers such as foxes and birds of prey do well in winter as they feed on animals that fail to survive.
In the Garden
Tie up trees and climbers.
Prepare beds for next year by weeding and digging over, providing the ground is not too wet or frozen.
Plant winter shrubs which produce huge volumes of fragrance to carry on the wind and attract the few pollinators that are about. Daphne, chimomanthus, heliotrope, hellebore, sarococca, witch hazel, winter jasmine and winter sweet are good choices.
Plant crops such as garlic, rhubarb and bare root fruit trees/bushes.
As you would imagine now is a fallow time for foraging. But as you celebrate with loved ones it’s the ideal time to crack open any preserves, jams, chutneys, cordials or liquors that you may have made in autumn.
What’s in Season
At their best: beetroot, borlotti beans, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cavolo nero, celeriac, celery, endive, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, kohlrabi, lambs lettuce, leeks, mushrooms, onions, parsnip, potato, rocket, salsify, sea spinach, swede, turnip, watercress, winter purslane, winter radish.
From the sea: bass, brill, clams, coley, dab, haddock, hake, herring, langoustines, lobster, mussels, oysters, pollack, rainbow trout, sardines, scallops, seabream, skate, sole, wild turbot.
Hunting season provides: duck, goose, grouse, guinea fowl, muntjac, partridge, pheasant, pigeon, turkey, venison.
My wintery words
As the year draws to a close
The days are shorter and nights longer
Take time to bathe in moonlight
Or sit by a candle
Let the soothing and calming effect
Of their luminosity guide you.
And as we head towards the winter solstice
Reflect that it is…
A time of endings and new beginnings
A time to rest, slow down and regenerate
A time to take comfort, as the chill in the air envelops us
That each day will bring a little more light
If you have been following along with these scribbles since the last winter solstice you may well have a complete overview of the year. Did you find that you were more conscious of seasonal changes and your routines? Compare your snaps from last year to the present. Are the differences subtle or has there been a big shift? Is this an exercise that you would consider continuing?
Rather than a seasonal photo series, I am doing a weekly video series this year, which I am sharing in The Snug. I started it the first week in November. I simply walk along with the video function playing on my phone during my Thursday dog walk. And whilst Lottie is sniffing around, I more mindfully take in my surroundings. After just seven weeks thus far, I am finding myself even more engaged in nature than I was before. And when editing the footage down over the weekend, I often see things that I missed in person. I am no videographer but I find the whole process and my imperfect little films a joy.
Next scribble: Imbolc, 1 February.
Would you like me to send future scribbles straight to your inbox? They will arrive in PDF format for you to save and read at your leisure. Plus you'll get access to 'The Snug' a cosy space for you to drop in weekly for seasonal living inspiration.
Each session will be posted on a Sunday around 8pm but drop in at any point during the week that is convenient for you.