Gillian Monks

'Making Fairytales Come True'

Month: January 2023

Wassail, Wassail!

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!

Waste Not, Want Not!

Our Christmas tree repurposed and redecorated as a ‘January Tree’ full of frost and ice!

I have just seen something which has greatly distressed me. A neighbour’s Christmas Tree, complete with lights, decorations and stand, put out at the side of the road for the refuse collectors to take away. My husband tells me that when he took some stuff to our refuse/recycling centre last week, there were several Christmas Trees there ready to go into a landfill site, in similar condition.

What is wrong with people? Are they really too lazy to dismantle their decorations? Do they really find it so onerous to put their decorations away in boxes and store them in an loft, cellar or garage for the next nine or ten months?

What a colossal waste! The planet is being poisoned by toxic landfill accumulated from billions of items which humanity uses once and then simply discards. As a species, we cannot keep on simply taking from and dumping on the planet in such thoughtless and selfish ways. There is also only a certain amount of raw material with which to manufacture all our consumer-driven needs. One day it will run out. What shall we all do then?

The fact that many decorations are relatively cheap to buy is besides the point. So many people cannot afford to even feed or keep themselves warm. Even a few pounds saved is better than none. And if folk really don’t want to keep something, why throw it away? Why not donate it to charity so that someone less lucky can appreciate it and be heartened by it again next year?

One of my dear friends has chosen to remove all her decorations from her Tree and put it out in her back garden, redecorated with fat balls and feeders for the wild bird population.

We haven’t even finished with our seasonal tree yet. It is still with us in its water oasis , standing in our drawing room. Cut fresh from the local forest, it hasn’t even begun to drop its needles yet, either. As always, we have removed all the coloured decorations and lights from it and redressed it in warm white lights and silver and white decorations, transforming it into a ‘Winter Tree’ which reflects the frost and snow of January. Similarly, our large jugs of evergreenery have had their colourful sparkles replaced with simple white lights. They all look truly chilly but they also cheer us at the same time. January is its own month, quite distinct from December, Midwinter and Christmas. It is lovely to be able to celebrate it and to have some appropriate decorations to brighten the dark days.

We might not even have finished with it at the end of this month – depending on how snowy the weather is in the first half of February, we might swap the silver icicles and glittery frosty baubles for the pink and red heart-shaped baubles we sometimes use to decorate for St. Valentine’s day on the 14th February!

Of course, I hasten to add that I have a rather full and untidy loft… but we have lots of fun, and we don’t need to keep buying new every year, just one or two items each season to refresh what we already have.

Life is for living and enjoying. How might you brighten these dark days and enjoy them? What might you have tucked away that can be repurposed and used for something fresh? Be inventive, use your initiative – give your spontaneity free rein.

Have fun!

And if you don’t want something any more, don’t waste it, pass it on!


The Pros and Cons of January

Early January sunset – view from my sickbed.

After my flurry of posts through November and December, some of you might be wondering about my sudden silence this month. The simple answer is that just after the start of the new year, I succumbed to a ‘flu-type lurgy and spent ten days languishing in bed, unable to do much at all except cough, suck throat lozenges and down lots of hot and cold drinks. Worst of all, I could neither read or write for most of that time – which for me really is a total disaster!

Yet my illness can be looked at another way; as an opportunity for a complete rest and a space in which to assess how well my winter celebrations are going, where I am up to and where I might like to go next… and how I might achieve it. Everything has a positive aspect to it.

Coughs and sniffles – with the added spectre of Covid – are all a part of winter life which appears to reach a peak of intensity in the grey cold days of January. The excitement of Midwinter/Christmas has passed, the weather is awful and we feel that there is nothing to look forward to except an unrelieved daily grind to pay off the seasonal bills and get through the next dull weeks and months. No wonder so many of us get depressed.

Yet, the month of January has a lot to offer in its own unique way, not least because it is a relatively empty, dull time which gives us the space to be bored.

There are two main ways in which you can help yourself to feel better. One is to  cosset yourself and cosy up with snuggly blankets, gallons of hot chocolate and heart-warming distractions in the form of books or on-screen stories. Alternatively, in an echo of jolly Christmas gatherings, arranging an activity with members of your family or friends – even just one other person – can also help to distract you and lift your spirits. Things like a simple meal – even just a bowl of hearty soup and some good bread with a lit candle can become special and comforting, especially if shared with the right person or people – or  shared with a relative stranger in whom you might suddenly discover a new and dear friend. Or you might decide to play a board or card game – look up an on-line quiz, meet for coffee at your local garden centre, go for a walk – anything, in fact, which brings you together.

Tip: don’t opt to watch something on a screen. You are looking for shared activity which brings you together and engenders conversation, company, connection and, if possible, laughter.

Enjoy and value these relatively ’empty’ days when you can afford to be  spontaneous. We have just spent a couple of months cramming all manner of preparations, parties and activities into our already overburdened schedules – now we have time. Acknowledge it. Use it. Enjoy it!

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