A Hot Toddy on a Winter Night

winter currier ives

It’s a snowy time now in Paradelle and I like having a hot toddy in winter. This goes back to the one that my beloved Aunt Millie made for me when I was too young to drink liquor.

It was a very snowy Christmas Eve and we walked in the snow to Midnight Mass. The night had that quietness that piling snow brings. No one was out in cars so we walked the middle of the streets. It was as close to the idealized Christmas Eves in some Currier and Ives illustrations.

When we returned home, I was feeling like I might be getting a cold. A hot toddy, despite my youth, was my Aunt’s preventative medicine.

Her recipe was to start with a prepared hot tea (herbal, black, green – your choice, but nothing overpowering like mint). You don’t want to add the liquor with a teabag in there because it will soak up some of the alcohol’s power. Add a jigger of brandy, whiskey or dark rum. Aunt Millie was partial to blackberry brandy in black tea. Add a tablespoon of honey and a splash of lemon juice. Those two will help clear any sore throat. If you used a lemon wedge (back then we just used the lemon that came in a squeezable plastic lemon). the wedge can be a garnish. A cinnamon stick or star anise can also be a garnish if you’re getting fancy.

I lift a clear glass hot toddy mug (Millie’s favorite so that you could see the glowing color) tonight to Aunt Millie, winter, and new starts of all kinds.

hot toddy

This Longest Night of the Year

LHS sunstones.jpg The winter solstice viewed at the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, California, USA.By Tim Ereneta from Berkeley, CA – solstice gathering, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

Winter solstice is an astronomical phenomenon that marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year. This is the December solstice in the Northern Hemisphere and the June solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. This year the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere will be at 11:19 PM ET today, Saturday, December 21.

The winter solstice is also known as the hiemal solstice or hibernal solstice,  Midwinter, Yule, the Longest Night and Jólo.

We get a solstice when one of the Earth’s poles has its maximum tilt away from the Sun. That happens twice yearly. For me, this is the shortest period of daylight and longest night of the year, but if I was at the North Pole, there is continuous darkness or twilight around the winter solstice. (It’s the opposite for the summer solstice.)

Why would anyone think of the solstice as “Midwinter” when it seems to be the start of winter? If you want to optimistic, after the winter solstice the days get longer and the nights shorter. But I have to admit that in Paradelle I think of mid-January as midwinter.

The December solstice is usually the 21st or 22nd of December. As with Full Moons, a solstice really lasts only a moment, but we popularly refer to the entire day as the Winter Solstice.

In prehistory, the solstices were observed carefully and were much more significant cultural events. There were festivals and rituals and superstitions and beliefs around this occurrence. It was seen by some as the symbolic death and rebirth of the Sun.

The late Neolithic and Bronze Age sites at Stonehenge in England and Newgrange in Ireland are still the site of ceremonies. The primary axes of both of these monuments seem to have been carefully aligned on a sight-line pointing to the winter solstice sunrise (Newgrange) and the winter solstice sunset (Stonehenge).

The pagan Scandinavian and Germanic people of northern Europe celebrated a twelve-day “midwinter” holiday called Yule ( Jul, Julblot, jólablót, midvinterblot, julofferfest). This holiday gave us many of the modern Christmas traditions, such as the Christmas tree, the Christmas wreath, the Yule log.  Scandinavians still call Christmas “Jul” and in English “Yule” is often connected to the “yuletide” season which has been in usage since 900.

In “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost, the setting of the poem is a woods on the Winter Solstice.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

Like the driver in those woods, it is good to stop a moment today and consider the solstice and nature’s beauty around us – but then, though “The woods are lovely, dark and deep,” we all have our
promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

 

October Weather Signals of the Winter Ahead

frosty pumpkins
Frost on the pumpkins might mean that the October Full Moon is also a frosty night.

My post about signs in nature of how intense the winter ahead will be always moves back up the stats list around the time of the autumnal equinox.

My friend, Maria, told me that her Italian mother believed that if there is a bumper crop of acorns in the fall, it means that we will have a bad winter. That’s one of many weather proverbs or nuggets of weather lore. My mother told me as a child that if leaves hang on in the autumn and are slow to fall, we should prepare for a cold winter. The little scientist in me as a child wondered if it wasn’t just because the fall was gentle and we didn’t have the wind or rain to shake the leaves loose from branches. But then I suppose you could say that a gentle autumn means a tougher winter.

Several bits of weather lore look to October weather to predict the winter to come:  https://wp.me/piq5C-3Th

  • Much rain in October, means much wind in December.
  • Thunder in the fall is supposed to foretell a cold winter ahead.
  • A warm October means a cold February.
  • A Full Moon in October without any frost means a warmer month ahead.
  • In late autumn and up until the Winter Solstice, flowers still blooming is a pleasant surprise but is supposed to be a sure sign of a rough winter to follow.

The general rules seem to be that a gentle preceding season means a colder one to follow. For example, I have read weather lore that says that a mild winter means a cold spring to come.

Do keep in mind that with all this weather lore, your local observations might be an indication of the local weather ahead and not about the country or the world. I am not a believer in the “official” winter forecasts you often see in the media about the winter ahead. Though they may be “scientific” they are so broad that the microclimates we all live in often are quite different.

Spring Will Come

There is snow on the ground in Paradelle, and the Polar Vortex visited us this past week. The ground is rock-hard. Nothing is budding. But I saw my first robin today.

robin

There are a lot of things that are supposed to indicate that the spring season is near. That silly groundhog in Pennsylvania who was pulled out of his home, saw no shadow (Duh, it was cloudy) and so it is supposed to be an early spring. NOAA says Phil the Groundhog has a 40% accuracy rate over 133 years – about as good as a coin toss.

It is a sure sign of spring when I once again watch the film Groundhog Day, and whatever the weather might be, I get into the Zen of that film.

Animals pay no attention to calendars, but those that hibernate or spend more time  inside than outside (like most of us) during winter do sense a warming climate. There are also internal clocks that will signal that it is time for them to emerge.

It made a kind of sense to people at one time that if they observed an animal (bears in France, badgers in Germany, groundhogs in America) emerging but then heading back inside, it must “know” something about the weather ahead.

You can also be a sky watcher like the ancients, who paid more careful attention to things up there. The movements of the Sun and Moon were very important and today is a “cross-quarter” day in the solar calendar. Today falls exactly between a solstice and an equinox.

Though it might not feel like it, consider that winter is halfway over and spring is on the celestial horizon – whether it looks and feels like it outside. I have definitely noticed that there was a longer day(light) the past week.

Many nature and garden folks look to the plants in their neighborhood for signs of spring. But I can’t say that I have found them to be much more accurate than groundhogs. I saw some bulbs poking above ground back in December, but they stopped their progress. I have a patch of crocuses that get full sun all day in front of my home that always bloom a week or more before the others.


Take the snowdrops I have outside. When they bloom, it might be snowy and they add some white (and green) to the landscape. But Galanthus nivalis will bloom when they are ready no matter what the weather happens to be. They are early bloomers.  Mine are not poking out, but we have a warming week ahead, so they might break through.

Cultures and religions all have some type of seasonal celebrations. The Celtic holiday of Imbolc is an ancient one that honored Brigid (or Brigit), goddess of fire, poetry, healing, and childbirth. February first is Saint Brigid’s feast day.

The ancient Imbolc (from the Old Irish imbolg, meaning “in the belly”) is thought to have come from his time being when ewes became pregnant. Those would be the spring lambs. As February started, Saint Brigid was thought to bring the healing power of the sun back to the world.

Christians took the pagan holiday and repurposed February 2 as Candlemas Day (Candelora in Italy).  Though it is to mark the presentation of Jesus at the temple 40 days after his birth, the ceremony is to bring candles (and Brigid’s crosses) to church to be blessed.  So, it offers the elements of fire and birth.

May Brigid bless the house wherein you dwell
Bless every fireside every wall and door
Bless every heart that beats beneath its roof
Bless every hand that toils to bring it joy
Bless every foot that walks its portals through
May Brigid bless the house that shelters you.

What made that robin return to this cold northern place now? Birds that nest in the Northern Hemisphere tend to migrate northward in the spring to take advantage of emerging insect populations, budding plants and an abundance of nesting locations.

Though the vast majority of robins do move south in the winter, some remain and move around in northern locations. Robins migrate more in response to food than to temperature and fruit is the robin’s winter food source. I haven’t seen any robins in my area since autumn, so I assume they went south.

American Robins eat large numbers of both invertebrates and fruit. In spring and summer, they prefer earthworms, insects and some snails. they also eat a wide variety of fruits, including chokecherries, hawthorn, dogwood, sumac fruits and juniper berries. One study suggested that robins may try to round out their diet by selectively eating fruits that have bugs in them.

Jack Frost

“The Christmas Song” sets the holiday scene with:
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Jack Frost nipping at your nose
Yule-tide carols being sung by a choir
And folks dressed up like Eskimos 

Jack Frost has been a name used to personify not only frost, but ice, snow, sleet, winter, and freezing cold. He is not quite the same as Old Man Winter who represents the entire season.

Jack is connected with those colder aspects of winter. After all, Old man Winter doesn’t treat southern California in the same way as he treats Maine.  His calling card is the fern-like patterns he leaves on cold windows and plants.

The character of Jack Frost has been around since at least the 1700s. He was usually shown as a mischievous boy or sprite fond of giving noses a chilling bite.

He may originate from Anglo-Saxon and Norse winter customs. He appears in Kalevala, the Finnish national epic, Kalevala. In Russia, he is Grandfather Frost. The closest German equivalent is Mrs. Holle. There are various other mythological beings who take on a similar role yet have different folklore to them.

Jack Frost has appeared as a character in television and movies. He pops up in songs about the winter season, such as “The Christmas Song” (aka “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”).

He has been presented as both a villain and hero. Modern-day Jack Frost’s come in many forms in popular culture.

He appears in Rise of the Guardians, where he is tired of being unseen and suddenly is forced to join the other Guardians – Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, Sandman, and the Easter Bunny.

In one Jack Frost film, a father returns to life as a loving snowman Jack.

In another film, a man named Jack Frost is genetically altered into a serial killer 
snowman.

Jack appears as the primary antagonist in The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause where he is jealous of the attention and popularity of Santa Claus.

 

Is There a Santa Claus?

In the summer of 1897, a father was asked a very difficult question that many parents have heard. Is there really a Santa Claus? Dr. O’Hanlon’s daughter, Virginia, was eight years old and was hearing from friends on summer vacation that she was foolish to believe in Santa. Her father, a serious man who was a police surgeon and deputy coroner, avoided being the word of authority and told her to write a letter to the editors of one of their New York City newspapers, The Sun. They printed her letter on September 21st.

Dear Editor:

I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see in The Sun it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

Virginia O’Hanlon

That short letter from 115 West 95th Street, got a reply, “Is There a Santa Claus?” in that edition. It has become the most reprinted editorial, and is best known for one line in the editorial, which begins:

“Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence…”                                                            read the full editorial

I got the same question from my sons a few decades ago. I didn’t tell them to write to a newspaper. I did not want to crush their belief in Santa, but I didn’t want them mocked at school. My older son was a big fan of the book, The Polar Express. In that book, there is a Christmas bell. Believers can hear it ring; non-believers can’t hear the sound. Our family could all hear the sound.

What i ended up telling the boys was that the popular Santa Claus of TV and movies and at the mall were not Santa, but they were believers who wanted to carry on the original version of Santa’s work. No magic sleigh and flying reindeer, but there is something of the magic still evident in the season. My younger son nodded in agreement and said there had to be some Santa because “there’s no way you and mommy would buy us all those gifts!” True, true.

For me, the more important line in the editorial is saying that “He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.”

As Old Man Winter is a personification of the season with some mythological and historical roots, Santa Claus is also a personification of pagan and some religious traditions made less secular. I wish Santa Claus was not associated with a religious holiday and was more of an end of the year symbol. Bringing gifts to those we love and care about, gathering with friends and family is certainly a good way to end the year.

santa game
Box cover from “Visit from Santa” game from the late 1800s

I was surprised to find a website for The New York Sun because I thought it had disappeared many years ago. It was a daily NY newspaper published from 2002 to 2008 adopting the name, motto, and masthead of the earlier NY newspaper that published the editorial, The Sun, which existed from 1833 to 1950. It became the first general-interest broadsheet newspaper to be started in New York City in several decades. Its op-ed page became a prominent platform in the country for conservative viewpoints. The Sun merged with the World-Telegram in 1950. Since 2009, The Sun has operated as an online-only publisher

CBS Sunday Morning did a segment, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” that talked with Virginia’s living relatives and takes a look at the original letter.     watch story online