Category Archives: Midwinter

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].


On a Winter’s Night, or Your January Book of Days

A bit belated, here is your printable Convivio Book of Days Calendar for the month of January. Cover star: Winter Night in the Mountains, a 1914 oil painting by artist Harald Sohlberg. He was Norwegian; he knew a thing or two about winter. Me, I’m from Florida and all I know is it looks awfully wintry in his painting. We had a bit of cold weather on Christmas Day and the first few days of Christmas; enough to make the iguanas sleepy but it has warmed up again since then and the iguanas are back to eating all the plants in the garden, save for the weeds, of course. I was hoping, to be honest, that the cold would help thin the herd a bit, but this does not seem to be the case. What I am certain of is folks in Norway do not have this problem.

We are approaching the close of the Yuletide Season. It’s the Tenth Day of Christmas and our focus is on preparations for Twelfth Night and Epiphany. I plan to make our Three Kings Cakes on Friday (you’ll find the recipe here) but later today, my work is cut out for me as I record and edit my cousins performing a story for Epiphany Eve. It’s the story of La Befana, the kindly old witch who searches for the Christ Child each Epiphany and who delivers small presents to the children in Italy. The recording will be part of the Stay Awake Bedtime Stories series that I host and I’ve no idea yet how this will all turn out, but we shall see what we shall see and if you’d like to watch the finished video, please visit the Stay Awake page at the website of the Jaffe Center for Book Arts by Thursday evening and see what you think. My cousin Marietta will be reading, my cousin Cammie will be sweeping, and my cousins Larry and Al (as well as Seth) will be offering their gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh as the Three Kings. How bad can it be?

At our online catalog, we are running a sale on select artisan goods for Christmas from Germany and from Mexico. The sale runs through Epiphany on the Sixth Day of January. You’ll find savings on handmade German nutcrackers and pyramids and nativity sets, and handmade nativities from Mexico. Click here to shop (and save: our extra large nutcrackers, for instance, are currently reduced by $295; after Friday, they go back to regular price).

Image: “Winter Night in the Mountains” by Harald Sohlberg. Oil on canvas, 1914 [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!