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by Sue-Ryn Burns

The slow light of autumn has given way to the shorter days of winter. Late season greens huddle under assorted tarps in the garden awaiting their fates. The first serious snow of the season is bending the brown leafed stalks of perennials, reaffirming gravity. Just last week I was scurrying around like a squirrel stashing garden tools, tomato cages and other potential obstacles, getting ready for this first snow. The "winter preparation list" has mostly been whittled down; the firewood is under cover, the harvest is pretty much done, the snow shoes and shovels are within reach and the slippery slope of winter is truly before us as the longest night approaches.

Winter Solstice has always been my favorite of the "Old Holidays". It holds an undeniable peacefulness during a time that has become quite a minefield for so many many of us. The old hustle and bustle of gift hunting has become too stressful to be pleasant. Many of us are trying to simplify our lives and clear out things we no longer need, on many levels. Some of us are struggling due to economic changes. For many of us, the important "things" in life are no longer things.

At our house the longest night is usually celebrated with a really good meal made with as many home grown foods as we can include. Candlelight and music fill the house. The pets get extra goodies with their dinners. The feeders get filled late in the day to provide early morning sustenance for the yard birds and squirrels and any "wildlings" in our care get fed, cleaned, and tucked in early. I usually get outside for a short time to listen for signs of night life, smell the clean cold air, and appreciate the beauty I am so fortunate to live amongst. Frequently we get something special from the library to watch later on in the evening.

These customs are distilled down from many seasons. To this day I can recall the scent of the "Christmas Tree" sales lot from a late night visit to buy a tree with my dad (probably I "got to go along" so my Mom could enjoy a few peaceful moments). Annually I gather assorted evergreen boughs and duplicate that scent in the house for the holiday season. I also recall car trips with my family around various neighborhoods to look at lights and displays people created, and I still do that too. Some of my fondest childhood memories of this season are linked to creativity. The preparations and decorating were very home made in my growing up time. Sharing of time with loved ones was also a major feature, during the preparations as well as the celebrations. Sure, there were many much loved gifts and trinkets, but the celebration and spirit of the season are what remain with me, and I know that is true for many of my friends. It's the people we love and the comfort of our memories and traditions, that make whatever circumstances we find ourselves in manageable.

Annually I make jellies and relishes to share at holiday time. I am grateful to have a talents to share and I am hopeful that others will share some of their talents with me in this season of exchanges. Works of the hand and heart are always great treasures to receive. I encourage everyone to spend some time pondering what gifts and talents they have that might make a meaningful gift for friends and family. A gift made or purchased with caring intentions is always appreciated. One year a group of friends pooled resources and purchased a seasons worth of snow plowing and walk shoveling for an elderly friend who had no family near by to help her. It made her winter safer, more manageable, and helped support a small seasonal business.

The longest night is also a time to contemplate hopeful winter plans. I used to sign up for a couple of classes every winter, some years a new craft was learned, other years it was yoga or Tai Chi. Recently a list of "non-credit classes" at the local community college was published in the local newspaper. Many libraries also have programs scheduled. Carpooling can keep the night driving from being a challenge. The slower pace of winter creates a space to focus on new skills or revisit old ones.

Winter is the season when we feel the need to stay closer to the fire. That could mean the wood stove, the kitchen hearth, or a warm "den" in which to nurture a small but passionate ember into something that will bring beauty and joy into the world we all share. It can also be a time out, to hibernate and re-energize ourselves with an appreciation for the earthly beauties, supportive loves, and gentle blessings that surround us each day.

Be thankful each day
for the fire in your hearth
and the fire in your heart.

The Longest Night
Metaphysical TimesVolume XI number 4 •  December 2014


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