Category Archives: Solstice

Snow on Snow on Snow

If you read as many 19th and early 20th Century books as I do, you may come to the same conclusion as I have about the weather: Christmas was definitely colder and snowier back then. Washington Irving’s traveler in the Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghosts that visit him in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Dick Dewey and the full cast of characters of Thomas Hardy’s Under the Greenwood Tree, Dylan Thomas’ child in A Child’s Christmas in Wales: all of these characters experience frosty, snow blown Christmases, the likes of which we rarely see these days, or so it seems to me. But what do I know? I live in Florida. It was 1977 when it last snowed here in Lake Worth. Our niece, who lives nearby, is bound for Maine to spend Christmas with her grandparents and she was hoping for snow, but instead the forecast there is calling for unseasonably warm temperatures. Where’s the fun in that, especially when it is Christmas?

Even here in this strange green land, cold is part of what we long for in Christmas, part of what makes Christmas, well, Christmas. We celebrate Christ’s Mass––Christmas––around the time of the Northern Hemisphere’s Midwinter solstice, but, in fact, we don’t really know when Jesus was born. It was the early Church, working within the confines of the Wheel of the Year, that placed his holy birth at the Midwinter Solstice. To the Midsummer Solstice, the Church assigned the birth of his cousin, St. John the Baptist. And so John is born at the brightest time of the year, just a few days past June’s solstice, the time of our longest days. But with Midsummer’s passing, the days already begin to grow shorter, and John himself tells us this: “I must decrease so he may increase.” John prepares the way for Jesus, the Light of the World. Which is why we celebrate the birth of Christ now, at the opposite pole of the year, the time of our darkest, longest nights, just as daily sunlight is at its minimum and is again about to increase. It is the old, old story, a rich and beautiful metaphor, attached to the even older story of the rhythm of our planet as it circles around the sun each year, tilted as it is on its axis, the tilt creating the seasons that are the basis of all our celebrations in the Wheel of the Year. Each day different from the one before and the one after: the constant rearrange that takes us from winter to spring to summer to fall and to winter again. It is the story we all know. And here we go again: In this bleak midwinter, light is born, the child is born, and now light again begins to increase. By Candlemas on the Second of February, when the Christmas season officially ends and when St. Brigid invites us to take our first steps upon her bridge to springtime, we will already be halfway between the Midwinter solstice and the Vernal equinox. There is nothing random about the days we celebrate. There is purpose and meaning behind them, as we tell the story over and over again: this story that never grows old. It is always fascinating. Always amazing.

As precision goes, the solstice moment this time around (more or less, for there are variations east and west within time zones), is 10:27 PM here in US Eastern Standard Time. That is the moment when the sun’s rays strike their southernmost point at the Tropic of Capricorn, south of the Equator, and in the Southern Hemisphere, today brings the Midsummer solstice and the longest day. Polar opposites: their longest day, our longest night.

Here at our home in Lake Worth, we’ll mark this longest night by lighting a fire in the backyard copper fire bowl. Our Midwinter fire will be fueled by the remnants of last year’s Christmas tree, which has been drying in a quiet corner of the yard since we brought it out there last February at Candlemas. A quiet ceremony on a chilly night in which the embers in our fire glow and shimmer and share the same winter sky as the stars that twinkle above.


You’ll find savings right now on European Christmas cookies and candies (and more) in the Specialty Foods section of our online shop (CLICK HERE to SHOP). The markdowns are automatic, and you can also take an additional $10 off your order of $85 when you use discount code SLOWCHRISTMAS at check out, and we’ll pay your domestic shipping at that level, too. (Our flat rate shipping fee is $9.50 for all domestic orders below $85.) While your order won’t be delivered by Christmas Day at this point, you’ll certainly have your order in time to enjoy for the Twelve Days of Christmas, though, which begin only once Christmas Day itself has passed. Aside from the cookies and chocolates in our shop, there are some important pantry items to have on hand to make your Twelve Days as wonderful as possible: I’d suggest stocking up on chestnuts at your local Italian market to enjoy throughout the Christmas season, and from us, may I suggest Shaker Mulling Spices so you can make mulled wine and Shaker Rose Water so you can make baklava and our Three Kings Cake come Epiphany.


Image: Bernstorffsvejen ved Rygaard, Rimfuld Vintermorgen (The Road Bernstorffsvej at Rygaard on a Frosty Winter Morning) by Christian Zacho. Oil on canvas, 1905 [Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons].


Midsummer Solstice

June 21 this year brings the June Solstice: Midsummer in the Northern Hemisphere, Midwinter in the Southern. As precision goes, the solstice moment this time around, more or less (for there are variations east and west within time zones), is 10:57 AM here in US Eastern Daylight Time. That is the moment when the sun’s rays strike the Tropic of Cancer, 23.5° north of the Equator. It is our longest day in the Northern Hemisphere. And for a lovely explanation of why (by way of a fresh lemon representing Earth), I invite you to watch a short video by one of the people on this planet that I really admire: Lia Leendertz, author of The Almanac, which you might think of as a Book of Days with a British focus, explains the celestial mechanics while offering some thoughts on Midsummer in a charming video she released just yesterday.

This 23.5° tilt of the Earth brings us our seasons, and today, we reach the extreme that brings the most sunlight to the Northern Hemisphere. It is the start of summer by the almanac, but our ancestors saw this as the height of summer, hence its older monicker: Midsummer. And just as the Midwinter solstice in December is soon followed by Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so too is the Midsummer solstice soon followed by St. John’s Eve and St. John’s Day. St. John’s Eve will come on Friday, the evening of the 23rd, and St. John’s Day on the 24th. This St. John is John the Baptist: the cousin of Jesus, he who was sent to prepare his way. All those feast days of saints that we celebrate throughout the year… like when we eat zeppole on St. Joseph’s Day, or minne de virgine on St. Agatha’s Day, or soda bread on St. Patrick’s Day: all these feasts commemorate the day each of these people left this earthly life. There are only three birthdays the Church celebrates each year: Jesus, Mary, and John the Baptist. It’s the two cousins that are the more fascinating here, because the Church placed their birthdates at the solstices. No one knows for sure when they were actually born, but they are placed in this particular order in the round of the year for metaphoric reasons: St. John is born at the brightest time of the year, the time of our longest days. But what happens immediately after the Midsummer solstice? Sunlight begins to decrease a little bit each day. It is the Constant Rearrange: no day exactly like the one that came before or the one that follows. John himself tells us something to the effect of, “I must decrease so he may increase.” John prepares the way for Jesus, the Light of the World. And Jesus is born then, at the opposite pole of the year, the time of our darkest days, our longest nights, just as sunlight is again increasing.

That is one version, anyway. It is the old old story and a fascinating one: the story of our planet and its place in the universe and it is our story, too, no matter which players you place in the roles. The planet continues its journey around the sun at its 23.5° tilt and with it comes summer and fall and winter and spring and therein, in this simplicity, lies the mystery. The mystery of our unfolding days and the spiraling circular nature of our existence.


Join me on Friday, June 23, in the afternoon hours before St. John’s Eve begins, for the Real Mail Fridays Midsummer Social on Zoom. This online social runs from 2 to 5 Eastern, and you may come and go as you please for time to get things done (letter writing or otherwise) in the company of friends from around the globe. We will feature music by Felix Mendelssohn and readings from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, mixed in with some other music fitting for the height of summer, and once an hour we’ll take a little break for some casual banter. We welcome you to join us from wherever you are by clicking here. Real Mail Fridays is always a very heartwarming time and this week it’s a midsummery time, too.

Saturday evening, St. John’s Night, Seth & I are thinking about going to the Midsummer Fest––the Juhannusjuhla––outdoors at Finnish-American Village, weather permitting. There’ll be a traditional midsummer bonfire! Entry is $5. Finnish American Village is at 1800 South Drive here in Lake Worth, Florida. The festivities begin at 6 PM, but if we go, we’ll be going later, as I am teaching a workshop that day at the Jaffe Center for Book Arts called Book Arts 101: Midsummer Night’s Dream and then we’ll be having a traditional Swedish Midsommar feast, of the carry-out sort, from our friends at Johan’s Jöe in West Palm Beach. They are accepting Midsommar catering orders through Thursday. Everything at Johan’s is always delicious! Here’s a link to order your own Midsommar feast from Johan’s. Highly recommended!

Also online, I invite you to watch the episode of Stay Awake Bedtime Stories that I recorded last year for Midsummer: It’s my own retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, an adaptation of the 1899 story version by Edith Nesbit. It’s a fun time. And in the video, I’m wearing an awesome floral crown that Seth made for me. Click here to watch.


At our online catalog, use discount code BLOSSOM to take $10 off your order of $85 or more, plus get free domestic shipping. Good on everything in the shop! Click here to shop! Happy Midsummer to you all. Glad Midsommar. Hyvää Juhannusta.


Image: “Summer Night (Sommernatt)” by Harald Sohlberg. Oil on canvas, 1899. National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design. [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.



Add Your Light to the Sum of Light

The midwinter solstice comes to the Northern Hemisphere at 4:48 PM Eastern time today, this 21st of December. Our nights have been getting longer each day since the midsummer solstice last June, and now we reach the longest night as the Northern Hemisphere reaches its point of maximum tilt away from the sun. That tilt makes for extremely long dark nights around the Arctic Circle and through all the lands that sit near the top of the globe, with gradually lesser extreme as we approach the equator, and on the other side of the equator, it is, of course, the opposite. There, it is the midsummer solstice, and the longest day.

All through Advent and soon Christmas and Yule and Kwanzaa and Chanukah, too, we respond to these darkest nights by adding our own light. More candles, more fairy lights, more warm glowing hearths. And in the process, our hearts grow open, as we add our light to the sum of light.

My friend Caren Neile has recorded a Chanukah tale called “The Scent of Latkes” for the online bedtime stories series I host, Stay Awake: Bedtime Stories for Kids & Sleepy Adults. Her story is brilliant! Stay awake with Caren and with all our other readers and storytellers by clicking here. Caren’s is the seventh episode so far!

Image: the tree we brought home just a few nights ago, illuminated, not yet decorated. Ornaments soon!