Fall is shuddering to a close. A season marking the division between summer and winter, its job is complete. In another short six days, marked by the solstice, is the onset of winter. The date when the wheel begins turning again, the days lengthen and eventually winter, too, is banished.
Living on a farm makes present the folklore, beliefs and cycles of our ancestors. The work is hard and productive yet follows annual cycles as certain as the length of the days. The landscape is now quiescent, regenerating, conserving its resources for the spring. To ensure the successful harvest in the spring our ancestors would troop to the orchards and engage in fertility rites on the winter solstice, a rite in the fallow season to encourage a future harvest. These days we place our faith in science and progress, smug in our assurance that we possess the answers.
For them, knowing that the sun was returning would have given hope as they faced the long months of winter. The seeds dormant and the eternal hope of the agrarian for a better harvest next summer than the last. For us with our 24/7 lives, global supply chains and too full grocery stores the idea that we have any need for or connection with the length of sunlight on the land strikes us as hopelessly parochial.
But under that modern gloss the wheel continues to turn. All still depends on the sun, the length of the days, the warmth of the soil and the rain that falls.
Which is probably why the ancients felt the need to celebrate during these dark months. It was a way to reaffirm their presence, vitality and willingness to persevere.
Last night we hosted our annual Christmas/solstice party. Being moderns somewhat removed from the natural calendar our ritual observations are less precise and urgent. No fear that the sun will not resume its daily path for us. So our party fell on a mid-December night when convenient for friends to gather.
Friends from the valley, the mountains and the city filled the house. The tables loaded with food and holiday beverages. A few non precise toasts, good conversation, our annual nod to encouraging the cycle to continue. Greenery brought into the house, a forgotten nod to our pagan roots, symbolizing an acknowledged desire for warmer days.
The last guests departed close to midnight. To my knowledge the orchard was left unmolested, leaving the trees to complete the cycle on their own.