As the year nears its ending our oldest traditional festival is nearly upon us. When the long nights and dark cold days reach their peak we arrive at the Winter Solstice. 

The time of the shortest day and longest night. The exact date of this can vary slightly from year to year. 

This year those wishing to recognise it and celebrate in any way they choose should do so on the 21st December.  From that point on, slowly but surely, our days will get longer and nights shorter. On the same day our friends on the other side of the world in the southern hemisphere are experiencing their longest day and their summer solstice.

Some years back I had the pleasure of hosting in Blackburn a group of young people from the small Caribbean island of Dominica near the equator – the entire population of which could fit into Old Trafford football stadium.

They loved East Lancashire. Despite coming from a place that looks something very close to our picture of paradise with tropical plants and trees overlooking a clear blue sea (Dominica is famously known as Nature Island), they were bowled over by our old stone buildings and green fields, woods and hills. 

A lesson for us all to appreciate what is around us more. They came in the summer time and were amazed at how light it was at nearly 10pm – being near the equator Dominca falls into darkness around 6pm all year round. Whilst it is easy to enjoy those long summer evenings we have to remember that we wouldn’t experience them without our short winter days where we wrap up to walk down a darkening street at 4pm. 

We are fortunate in many ways to have such differences throughout our year. A glance outside the window changes so much as the months go by in terms of light and how the natural world is responding to it. 

As well as the changes in temperature, it is these variations in length of day light hours that plants, trees, birds, insects and mammals all use as indicators as to what they need to be doing.

Some hibernate as days shorten, others migrate whilst others change almost beyond recognition in order to adapt to their new surroundings. 

As we walk under what look like skeletons of trees in deepest mid-winter it is amazing to think that there are queen bumble bees burrowed down in the ground around our feet waiting for spring to come before re-emerging.

I have had the pleasure recently of leading some nature walks along the canal with several groups including some mums from Audley Junior School. Braving some challenging weather we made some winter wreaths from bright red and green Dogwood plants, adding Holly, Ivy and even some pine needles to make lovely displays. 

This is a great thing to do to connect with the season and observe what is around you at this time of year. It is also a lovely way for people of all backgrounds to come together to appreciate the natural world. 

Another option could be to make a home-made bird feeder to help the garden birds who neither leave nor sleep through the winter. Better still you can make a bird feeding wreath! 

This link on the Wildlife Trust website gives you some lovely ideas as to how to connect with Winter and enjoy it.

Let us not wish our days away until warmer weather comes. Enjoy today and the wonders that it offers. So Happy Christmas to those that celebrate it and happy Winter Solstice to everyone!