Midwinter solstice. Yule. Christmas. However you chose to honor and celebrate this season, the darkest and coldest time of the year (in the Northern hemisphere), the time when the year grows ancient and bids farewell… there are feelings and experiences common to all of us. Happiness, certainly, and anticipation—but also, often, a sense of exhaustion and overload on many levels. And perhaps, this year, more than most—for we come to the end of 2020 reflecting on a year that has certainly been, let us put it politely, memorable on so many levels (and not all of them positive!).
I don't think there are many of us anywhere who have not been affected, either physically, emotionally, practically or financially by the events of this year, and perhaps the idea of the "festive" season may seem a little far-fetched, especially for those battling with anxiety, fear, or stress—which is probably most of us right now!
So, I would like to suggest a gentle and simple way of using this holiday season to focus on what is truly important right now: both self-care (nurturing ourselves on every level) and connection (maintaining a healthy and happy relationship with those around us, as well as the world on a wider level). As you will see in my book, The Enchanted Herbal, I am a big fan of journaling: the keeping of a personal journal (aka grimoire, scrapbook, or commonplace book) offers us a safe, loving, and non-judgemental place to record our lives, on every level from the practical to the spiritual, from recipes to rituals to memories.
When we journal we give ourselves a unique space to record not just our daily lives, but also to clarify what it is we want, where we have been, and where we are going; the very act of writing and committing words to paper somehow seems to open us up to our deepest selves in a healing way…words are incredibly powerful!
Perhaps you do already keep a personal journal (or several); however, creating a very special grimoire dedicated to this midwinter season gives us a place to record our lives, emotions, and dreams as we approach the turning of the year. In the dark, icy earth of the winter months we can plant seeds, seeds that will develop into something new and beautiful; we can learn to be still, and to hold our thoughts and dreams in a gentle and safe place.
My mother, who was definitely something of a green witch (although she would never have used the term) kept a Christmas journal for several years when I was a child; recently, while going through her things a few months after she passed away, I found one of these journals, dating from the 1970s. It was at once interesting and also bittersweet to read her recipes and plans for the holidays, and look at the photos she added to the pages, but it also reminded me of the importance of recording these moments in time, a fragment of memory to be enjoyed and savored over the years.
Some suggestions for your midwinter grimoire:
- It can be as simple (or fancy) as you choose to make it. Some people prefer a simple lined book, while others prefer something a little larger and more elaborate. If you plan to add pictures or drawings, a journal with blank pages is a better choice. Another good idea is to stick a large, strong envelope on the inside of the back cover, as this is a useful way to store loose pictures, clippings, and other things.
- Set aside a quiet time, preferably in both morning and evening (with no interruptions, if possible!) to write in your journal. Choose surroundings where you feel relaxed and comfortable, perhaps with a fragrant candle burning and a cup of your favorite herbal tea to hand. Ground yourself, mentally and physically, and spend a little time reflecting on the day, and what it is you need at this particular time. (In the evening you might choose to reflect on the experiences of the day just past, and what you have learned from them.) What can you do today to take better care of yourself, while still being in the spirit of the season? How can you better connect with others and show them love, and appreciation? This can be as simple as setting out a bowl of seed and nuts for visitors to your winter garden!
- If this season brings up particular painful issues for you, please feel free to write about them, and be totally honest in your journal—after all, no one will or should see it except you, unless you choose to share it. Perhaps there is a sense of loneliness or loss associated with this time of year, particularly if you are going through a period of grief or mourning. I lost my mother a few months ago, and I know this holiday time, the first without her, is going to be hard on a number of levels—but I also know that writing down my feelings and memories will help me deal with this in a graceful way. Similarly, if there are aspects of this season that really push your buttons (or people that make you dread this time) write this down and, most importantly, reflect on what you can do to either change the dynamics, or cope with them in a way that is more healthy for your soul and spirit.
- Gratitude: what is it you are grateful for at this time? Especially now, when so many have experienced unprecedented loss on many levels this year. If we have a home, food, warmth, and support, that is certainly something for which to give thanks. When we truly realize how blessed we are, our hearts and hands are open to receive even more blessings.
- If you have particular midwinter rituals for your chosen way of celebrating this time of year, record them in your journal; write down any thoughts or emotions these rituals create in you, either positive or negative. What Is it you love (or really don't) about this time of year? For example, I was raised to believe that "more is more" when it came to gift buying and giving, and until a few years ago I went totally overboard when it came to buying gifts, which made little practical or financial sense. I was constantly stressing as to whether I had bought "enough," until, finally, I chose to step back from that, and focus rather on a single gift (even something handcrafted) that is, hopefully, far more memorable in the long run.
- Following on from this, how can you keep things simple, both practically and emotionally, especially if you are responsible for entertaining family and friends in the yuletide season? Food is obviously a big part of many people's celebrations, but feasts can be pared down and still be both delicious and memorable—it really isn't necessary to exhaust yourself and the budget, and I promise you people will remember the warmth and joy you extend to them just as much without the elaborate meals. Simplicity is always beautiful, and that includes the meals we prepare. Write down menu plans and recipe ideas in your journal#&151;and of course, if you have a particular favorite, include that. (I have a couple of handwritten recipes from my mother's old recipe book stuck at the back of my journal; these are recipes without which the festive season would seem incomplete to me!) This is the time of year for tradition and ritual, as long as they make sense to you on a personal level.
- Record any personal rituals that are particularly meaningful to you at this time. They can be structured or simple, as simple as a quiet soak in a hot tub with some fragranced soaking salts that relax both body and mind, (There are lots of suggestions for this in The Enchanted Herbal, but I would always suggest lavender, geranium, sandalwood, and chamomile, either singly or in combinations, for those of us who feel tense, stressed, and exhausted at this time of year.)
- Burning scented candles, or using incense or an oil diffuser, is a particular nice addition to your journaling time: I have a beautiful golden pillar candle, gifted to me by a friend, that is fragrant with both frankincense and juniper, which are particularly appropriate scents for this time of year. Other fragrance suggestions are rose, cahmomile, cypress, bergamot, and orange (particularly helpful when we are feeling anxious or pressured).
- If you choose and it's a meaningful part of your celebrations, you can include a section of your journal that is devoted to practical things like recipes (see above!), decorating ideas, and the like—you can add clippings from favorite magazines and other sources, too.
Above all, allow yourself to feel and express the magic of the midwinter season, in whatever way works for you… honor yourself, body, heart, and soul, at this special and enchanted time, and sparkle bright like the midwinter stars!