At Dunn Gardens we are coming up on our Winter Solstice Stroll, one of our flat out most loved events. If we are really honest, we are cheating and holding it ahead of schedule; December 10 as opposed to December 21. It turns out the date of the actual solstice varies from year to year. It can be as late as December 23. The last time that happened was in 1903. It’s probably not a good idea to make plans to celebrate the next December 23rd solstice since it will not happen till 2303.
The word solstice comes from the Latin, solstitium which means the sun stands still. It is at the southern most position from the earth and appears to pause before it changes direction and the days get longer. (This year the pause will happen at exactly 4:31 pm on December 21.)
Celebrating the shortest day or, more correctly, the prospect of increasing daylight has a long history. In ancient Rome the festival of Saturnalia, held as far back as 217 BC, began on December 17 and lasted a full week. Ostensibly, the celebrations were in honor the sun god, Saturn and were noted for their reversal of the common order: masters served slaves, grudges were forgotten, wars were postponed. However, over the years the celebrations and the name of the festival became linked with excess and license. They certainly offended the Christians who began their celebrations on December 25, as an offset to the pagan carryings on.
The Scandinavians also honored one of their gods with a festival at the time of the solstice. During the celebration they burned a yule log in tribute to Thor. They kept a little as a starter of the fire for next year’s celebration and also for luck. Their European contemporaries had slightly different customs. Typically, the Yule logs were burned to ash that was thrown on fields as fertilizer. (Composting at solstice, no less; makes a gardener glow.)
Like the ancient Scandinavians, folks at the Dunn Gardens will be burning some logs in the fire pit during our solstice. We will also be inviting visitors to walk the Celtic spiral constructed from greenery found in the garden. The Celtic spiral is one of the most ancient of symbols and it represents the sun. Visitors will light a candle and walk in one direction by its intimate light, contemplating the old year. Like the sun they will pause and stand still for a moment before changing direction. On the way back they will greet the New Year and the promise it holds.
Having observed that little ritual, visitors will be invited to find something warm to drink. Can you think of a better way to celebrate, with friends, the shortest day of the year, with its promise of light, sun and the opportunity to enjoy a garden once more. I personally cannot. And I suspect the promises hold good, even if you are celebrating a touch early.
This event is a membership benefit. Members are invited to bring guests and a donation is welcomed. Thank you.
Photo by Kathy Admire