Here we are, already at the last Friday in January. The year is picking up apace! Birds are singing their pre-courting solos, staking early claims to territory for the mating season, snowdrops are in bud, the snow has almost disappeared from the mountains. I sense that the land is almost holding its breath in this last gasp of true winter, as we crest the rise and begin to roll gently down into earliest spring.
Last week, as the light of the short afternoon faded, we ventured out into our garden to celebrate the first anniversary of the founding of our stone circle and to wassail the land. Wassailing is a noisy celebration to begin to awaken the natural world. We lit a fire, shared hot spiced apple juice with the land and each other, sang traditional wassailing songs and made a great hullaballoo with drums, rattles and bells. Special attention was paid to our four apple trees, especially the oldest which must have stood for at least a hundred years and which has rather a crusty, grumpy temperament, but, nevertheless is a good cropper in the autumn.
As we sat in the darkness and talked quietly around the warm and welcoming flames, flakes of snow began to fall and stick to our faces, our hair… the soft kiss of winter.
Wassailing is originally a Norse tradition which I have brought with me from the North West of England to this mountain fastness of Wales. Wassail means ‘good health!’ so in affect, we are blessing the land for another fruitful year. As a family, we have always wassailed the land on the 17th January, but in the recent resurgence in interest and practice of wassailing it can be done any time in January, from New Year’s day right through to the end of the month which then more appropriately spills over into the end of winter and the celebration of earliest spring at Imbolc – or for us here in Wales, Gwyl Ffraid – our next celebration around the wheel of the year at the beginning of February.
There is still time! Get out this weekend and, along with counting your birds for the big Garden Bird Watch for the R.S.P.B., why not acknowledge and bless your land as well? It needn’t actually be your land – simply the land – our land, this Earth which belongs to all of us and which sustains and nourishes us so generously. Even beneath the tarmac of busy roads and the foundations of tall buildings, the heart of the Earth beats strong and true.
Perhaps it is not so much a time to reawaken the natural world so much as an opportunity to reaffirm our connection to it all and to rejoice in it.
Blessings to all!