Return of the light

Winter solstice 

By the time you read this, Christmas will be days away.

Perhaps you are rushing with last-minute preparations.

Maybe like me, you are trying to stay busy in a much quieter season. Instead of stressing about Christmas, how about we focus on a bright spot that can offer us a pause?

The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year; after that, there are more hours of daylight and spring gets closer. This turning point has long been cause for celebration by cultures around the world, my Icelandic ancestors being among them. 

Jól - in English, Yule – is at the heart of many of the customs we cherish today. I bet you have heard of a yule log.

Today’s dessert represents the ceremonial log that started the fire and gave great light inside Viking longhouses during their solstice festival. 

Evergreen trees were another symbol of life and light, remaining green throughout the winter. The custom of decorating them started with the Vikings. Other green plants, such as holly and mistletoe, were also used as symbols. 

Mistletoe was said to be the one plant missed when the goddess Frigg protected her son Baldur with oaths from every living thing on earth.

Loki, the trickster god, found this out and arranged to kill Baldur with a spear of mistletoe. After that, Frigg declared the plant a symbol of love in honour of her son. Kissing under the mistletoe is paying tribute to Baldur.

Norse gods were famous for disguising themselves and interacting with people and creatures of our world.

Odin, ruler of the Norse gods, would descend on his magic white steed for the winter solstice in a disguise called Old Man Winter. 

Odin’s steed was so swift he could circle the globe in one night. His fur-trimmed robes made him an impressive figure; one that translated to Father Christmas when this tale was told by Vikings who had settled in England in the Middle Ages.

The skies have long offered symbolism and fuelled our imagination, especially in the long nights of winter.

This year on the day of the winter solstice, Dec. 21, Jupiter and Saturn will be closer in the sky than they have been in 20 years, an event called The Great Conjunction. (Doesn’t that sound impressive?) 

Surely, the sight of the two gas planets in our solar system in the same field of view is a sign.

Even if the south-western night sky is cloudy, I intend to watch for my own gratification. If you’d like some tips on how to view the event, here are some.

The days have been long this year even when the sun was not going down early. We could use any extra light, extra joy, extra festivities. As I sit here writing to you by the lights of my Christmas tree, I am struck by the force of the symbols of this time of year.

2020 is the perfect opportunity to show just how wonderful Christmas can be, when we remember to share and enjoy the light and the company and the love. 

I will close this week with one last example, also fitting for this year full of fake news and polarizing situations. It comes from a news story more than 100 years ago, but the sentiment is one that I hope humans will always find relevant, if not inspiring. Then, as now, it was a young person who asked the right question.

Virginia O’Hanlon asked her father in 1897 whether Santa really existed. She was 10 years old. Her father assured her that she could find her answer if she wrote to The Sun, the prominent paper in New York back then. “If you see it in The Sun, it is so,” he said.

Virginia’s reply came in an editorial that was written by Francis Church, one of the editors who had been a civil war correspondent and was known to be a cynic and an atheist. Despite his seemingly ill-fitted character for this task, he gave an answer that spoke volumes. 

Every time I read this letter it brings a happy tear to my eye; you can read it all here. It reminds me how important it is to believe. I will quote just one of my favourite bits for you:

“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.”

More Happy Gourmand articles

About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."


E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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