We are nearly at the end of the year. The days are getting shorter and the nights longer as midwinter creeps closer. It is easy to feel gloomy, but the good news is that from 21st December the days start to get longer! It is because of this promise of longer, lighter days that the longest night has traditionally been a time for celebration. The nights might be long this month, but they can be very beautiful if there are no clouds in the sky, as the moon is at its highest and clearest and the stars are at their brightest.

The dark can be depressing or scary, but just think: if there was no darkness, there would be no light! This is what all the festivals this month are about: finding light in the darkness.

You might think that Christmas is the oldest winter festival, but pagans have celebrated at midwinter for hundreds of years. 21st December is also known as the Winter Solstice or “Yule” which comes from a Norse word “houl” meaning “wheel” because of its place in the cycle of the seasons – or the “Wheel of the Year”.

Many of the pagan traditions of Yule have found their way into the celebration of Christmas. Perhaps you know the carol, The Holly and the Ivy – this has its roots in pagan traditions. Pagans also light candles and fires, decorate their homes with evergreen plants, feast, dance, and give gifts. All these things are now traditional at Christmas too. Pagans believe that hanging a sprig of holly near the door brings good luck and keeps away evil spirits. Mistletoe is also hung as decoration and as a blessing and symbol of new life.

Where I live in Cornwall there are lots of midwinter celebrations. In Penzance there is the Montol Festival (“montol” is an old Cornish word which means “the turning point of the year”). There is lots of dressing up, processions through the town, lanterns, singing, dancing, eating and drinking. At the end the “Mock” or yule log is marked with chalk and then burned. This log is a symbol of the light that we all yearn for in the darkness – it prevents the dark and the cold taking over.

Another good way to beat the chill is to do some winter baking! There’s nothing better on a cold, dark winter’s evening than to put on some cheery Christmas music and set to work baking some yummy warming treats. Why not have a go at making your own mince pies this year? There’s a recipe in my 2019 almanac:

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Whichever winter festival you celebrate this December, be it Solstice, Christmas or Hanukkah, I wish you a happy time and all the best for a prosperous and healthy New Year.

And look out for more treats and activities in next year’s almanac, which is available now!

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