Midwinter Rituals

I love winter.

More than anyone I know, I love winter. I love it in a ‘why the hell do you want ‘WINTER SUN’?!’ kind of a way. In a deep-sigh-of-satisfaction-when-pulling-woolly-jumpers-out-of-drawers-in-october kind of way. In a ‘yeah baby I’m ready for Christmas at the end of November!’ kind of way.

Not just Christmas though. All of it. Winter. The darkest point of the year, the necessary obliteration from which life can begin again. I love the grey lowering sky, the bare silhouettes of trees, the seed pods, the fluffed up fattikin birds, the slidey mud, the 1970’s brown corduroy of the hillsides, the scrunchy puddles, the constant tending of fires and of course, if we are lucky enough, the SNOW.

But most of all I love the rituals.

The other day, the small boy and I were out on our dog walk, collecting greenery to make the Christmas wreath. This is the first year its been fun. The first year we’ve walked along, taking turns swinging the basket, pointing out holly that still has berries on, wondering whether the dull grey fronds that Rosebay Willowherb leaves behind in winter will fill in for the Olds Man’s Beard that isn’t here yet (answer being yes, thank you very much, it’ll do beautifully), the art deco starburst of Common Ivy’s flowers, the burnished copper of the last beech leaves that have found a sheltered spot in which to hide from the wind and which will add seasonal glitz to our wreath.

And, as I was pondering all the previous years when I’ve set out with my basket and two small people, thinking how lovely it will be only to find that actually its just a whinge-fest with an empty basket, I looked down and saw… the first little noses of snowdrops peeking out of the dull grey soil.

And it struck me HARD. Doing the same thing over and over again, year after year brings incomparable magic to our lives. It is in the sameness that we acknowledge the differences, see the new.

For me, mid winter IS the time of ritual. At no other time of the year do I have such a full calendar of seasonal celebration. Somehow they keep me steady, anchor me deep into the middle of the season, guarding against the empty mass consumerism that can cause us to spin out of control in a frenzy of spending and partying and eating and drinking and then falling exhausted into the new year, dazed, guilty and feeling that a gym membership might be just the thing.

Rituals old and rituals new. The only thing that elevates them from being merely HABIT is the fact that they are somehow ‘devotional’. They take time and a little bit of thought and a lot of love and generally are quiet in the carrying out.

The Wreath: Collecting greenery, twining sticks together, composing colour and texture. Prickled fingers, red nose.

The Pud or Cake; the buying of fruit we barely eat anymore, mixing it with strange unpalatable spirits that even I won’t touch at any other time of the year, macerating overnight, symbolic stirring in a specific order and direction, steaming, feeding, rolling, icing, decorating, burning.  Slow. Careful. Gentle.

The Cards… sitting with tea (cherry brandy for preference round here though if you get a very voluble card from me you’ll now know why…), in the same room as my husband (a miracle) silently scratching away at the kitchen table, heads bent, passing the address book between us, offering each other space at the bottom of a mutual friends card.

The Pomanders; oranges stuck with cloves and decorated with ribbons which I relentlessly present to my long suffering mum and mother in law every year and which require me to sit for one evening per pomander in front of the 1980’s BBC children’s special ‘Box of Delights’ with its now-terrible special effects, a bowl of cloves spicing the air, poking holes into the pads of my fingers, muttering every line under my breath.

The Tree. Selecting the ‘best’ one. Congratulating ourselves endlessly on how good it is. Remembering past trees. Trees that spilled their needles or were too fat or were pulled down by this child, that child, this dog, that cat. Lovingly pulling out the decorations and talking about where they came from, whether Father Christmas brought them for me, or you… Fixing the fairy, turning off the lights to gaze in wonder at this new and lovely member of our family. Ever since I can remember its been the same.

Each year it’s the same, but each year has its differences. This year we did a cake instead of a pud because it’s really my dad who loves the pud and he isn’t here anymore. Without him there will be no one exploding from the table with an ear splitting roar of appreciation as the pud comes in, ceremonially lit up and that is not something I want to contemplate. Maybe it’ll be back next year… This year, the boy was old enough to genuinely contribute to the wreath gathering and it was the first time I was invited to join the inner sanctum of gorgeous local women at their annual wreath making pisstake-athon. This year they chose the tree without me, Dad’s Ukrainian decorations hurt my heart and I made a pomander without watching Box of Delights (I’m reading it instead). When we do the cards there will be splittings to acknowledge, deaths, moves and additions, all the massive changes in people’s lives causing a tiny administrative tremor in ours.

It is fashionable to loathe Christmas and its consumerist nonsense but I love it. Because without this last vestige of our seasonal celebrations we would be without these little pauses. For all its brash glitziness and drunken cry of ‘BUY BUY BUY’ it brings with it, in these little rituals; a chance to genuinely, quietly, lovingly, ‘devotionally’ celebrate The Season and accept all the changes the year has wrought.

Happy Christmas! xxx