At the dark of the year

It'll be coming back soon.
It’ll be coming back soon.

Saturday December 21st is the winter solstice in 2013 in the northern hemisphere, and it deserves celebration by gardeners because it means that even though the worst of the cold weather is still ahead, the days will be growing longer now.  Many plants have photoperiodic characteristics, and the longer days start telling them to wake up for spring.  (Animals, too, including humans, but that’s a topic for a different blog altogether.)

Celebrate the solstice?  Indeed, cultures across the northern hemisphere and back into history have done so.  From Yule to Saturnalia, from Hanukkah to Brumalia, there is an astonishing similarity in these celebrations.  Eat, drink and be merry.  Turn up the lights and have one last fling before the deep of winter, and these celebrations are often associated with the rebirth of a God or the appeasement of them.

Here in the United States, the most prevalent celebration by far is that of Christmas on December 25th.  People enjoy Christmas so much that those of many religions (or none) celebrate it, and Christians are wont to complain about the non-religious aspects of some of that celebration.  There’s a poetic irony here.  There is no accepted date for the birth of Jesus of Nazareth in Christian theology.  The choosing of December 25th in the 3rd or 4th century by the outnumbered and sometimes persecuted Christians in Rome probably had more to do with the fact it was the birthday of the Roman God Mithras (a sun god figure), or that of Sol Invictus (also a sun god figure), than any belief that it was the actual birthday of Jesus.

Yesteryear aside, very soon the lengthening days will tell perennials, shrubs and trees to come out of dormancy.  You won’t see much activity above ground for a while, but now is the time for winter pruning and the final cleanup from last fall. In truth it is the turning of the year more than the calendar date of January 1st: thankfulness for what I have and planning for the next year is certainly in the front of my mind.

Whether your solstice celebrations are religious or merely for pleasure, I wish you warmth, light, a full pantry and the company of loved ones on the longest night of the year.