‘Let There Be Light!’ – Winter Solstice & Other Seasonal Customs
Posted on December 22, 2015
Article & Photos By Jacqueline Bennett newsandviewsjb.com
Genesis 1:3 “And God said ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.”
Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere is said to fall each year between December 20-23 and in 2015 it is today, December 22. Marking the first day of the astronomical winter, it is considered to hold more than astronomical meaning, carrying as well cultural and religious significance. Although it is the longest night and shortest day of the calendar year, in the “battle between dark and light” it is light that is the central theme of Winter Solstice, according to SchoolsoftheSeasons.com. Celebrations focus on the turn of the clock towards longer hours of daylight, and a “rebirth” of light. As such, one custom noted to be associated with the date, and first popular in Great Britain and Ireland, is the lighting of a large red candle decorated with wreaths of holly or other evergreen.
Science met sentiment with the origin of the now widespread custom of Christmas Lights. In 1880, American inventor Thomas Edison is credited with having created an 8-mile underground wiring system “to power a splendid light show on the site of Menlo Park industrial research laboratory” Elise Warner wrote in the piece, “The Lights of Christmas” Dec 2015/Jan 2016 Elks Magazine. Christmas tree bulbs she added, are said to have been created by Edison’s friend and vice president of Edison Electric Light Co., Edward H. Johnson, who in 1882 lit the “first known” electrically illuminated Christmas Tree in his home. The rest as they say is history.
What would Christmas be without Christmas Cards? This marvelous custom can be traced back to mid-19th Century England and Sir Henry Cole, who was assistant keeper of what is now the postal service. Back then it was called the Public Record Office, explains Why Christmas.com. It was in 1843 that Sir Henry joined with an artist friend, John Hossby, and together they designed what is believed to be the first Christmas card. It was designed with three panels – the two outer panels depicted “people caring for the poor”, while the center panel showed a family enjoying a Christmas dinner. It sold for one shilling which is the contemporary equivalent of about 8 cents. WhyChristmas.com goes on to say that improved printing allowed for production of larger numbers of Christmas cards. In addition, mailing Christmas cards became more affordable when cost dropped as the result of the increased prevalence of train shipment.
Scents of the season are a customary delight this time of year. An interesting sidebar in the December 2015 Oprah Magazine delineated four special scents that signal Christmas is at hand, while also offering health and well-being benefits. The write-up points to a study in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology which reports that peppermint – the traditional flavor of candy canes – can curb hunger and make one feel energized. A “whiff” of rosemary, an herb sometimes utilized to adorn kissing balls, is thought to improve the memory. That finding is based upon research at Northumbria University in England. Citing an article in the journal Chemical Senses, the sidebar said it has been suggested that vanilla, a key ingredient in most holiday baked goods, can generate calmness. People who smell vanilla can be left feeling “happier and more relaxed”. Last but far from least is cinnamon. In addition to making whatever it is sprinkled into taste better, scientists at Wheeling Jesuit University have “discovered” cinnamon can help sharpen one’s attention span, and like rosemary improve the memory.
Hum … might eating cinnamon be even more potent when it comes to conjuring up memories of cinnamon? For example, Cinnamon Sugar Treats baked by my mother that were a Christmastime custom in the Bennett home when I was growing up – see December 19, 2014 “Mom’ Recipe Box” post.
Whatever other customs accompany the season, why not pause for a moment on this day of Winter Solstice to take joy in the light that is, and the light to come.
(Writer’s note: Speaking of holiday scents, and to touch upon another Christmas custom of holiday crafting, I have begun saving the country style jars that hold Smucker’s Fruit & Honey Triple Berry Fruit Spread. Embossed in small script with the lettering – JM Smucker – the attractive jars make a lovely holder for seasonal cinnamon and berry potpourri. As an accent, I’ve added an intriguing-looking, wood-carved Kris Kringle ornament I found in a shop two seasons ago. – JB)