Winter Almanac

By Ash Alder


In the winter garden, everything feels like a tiny miracle. Each ice crystal. Each smiling pansy. Each tender bud on the heirloom camellia.

Even the sunlight looks different than you’ve ever seen it — softer, more forgiving. In this bare-branched season of shadow and new light, the sweetness of infinite possibility reveals itself in endless subtle ways. Notice the magic even amidst the decay

You clean the birdbath, add fresh water, return to the kitchen for the whistling kettle. As your sachet of tea pirouettes in hot water, the aroma of citrus, clove and cinnamon permeates the air, and there is movement in the periphery. Flashes of color.

Through the window, a procession of songbirds splashes round in their warm bath, preening each feather — each tiny miracle. You watch as they bob and shimmy, and when the last bird lifts off, you exhale a silent prayer.


Grace is here.     

Winter is a threshold to wonders yet unknown. Dark as it sometimes seems, you enter bright-eyed, as if your very breath might perfect Nature’s unfurling masterpiece.


How many lessons of faith and beauty we should lose, if there were no winter in our year! 
— Thomas Wentworth Higginson, April Days, 1861


Rebirth of the Sun

Call it what you like — Winter Solstice, Yule, or midwinter — the longest night of the year falls on Saturday, December 21.

In Japan, it’s a midwinter tradition to take a dip in the yuza tub, a hot bath filled with floating yellow yuzu fruit, to ward off the common cold. Not a bad way to welcome winter. Or round a fire with dearest friends, sharing stories, songs and cider beneath the waning crescent moon.


Year of the Rat

Twelfth Night (January 5), the eve of Epiphany, marks the end of the Christmas season. But the merriment continues. Saturday, January 25, marks the celebration of the Chinese New Year. Cue the paper lanterns for the Year of the Metal Rat, a year of wealth and surplus. Bring it on.

According to one ancient myth, the rat is the first of all zodiac animals because it tricked the ox into giving it a ride to the Jade Emperor’s party, a race to determine the order in which the animals would appear. Just as the ox was approaching the finish line, the rat leapt down in front of it, arriving first. All of this to say that 2020 just may be a year of newfound ingenuity and resourcefulness. But no need to go fooling anyone.   


Sweet Herbal Magic

January is National Hot Tea Month.

Loose leaf is best.


Add honey, lemon, spices, sticks of cinnamon.

Cook with it.

Chai and matcha shortbread cookies. Roasted oolong ice cream. Green tea poached salmon with ginger and lime.

Detoxing? Dandelion root has long been used to help cleanse the liver and gallbladder.

Sore throat? Try peppermint, echinacea, ginger root, or slippery elm.

And if you’re dreaming of summer: sweet rose.


Say it in Flowers (or Spoons)

Red roses say I love you. But if you’re looking to dazzle your sweetheart with something different this Valentine’s Day, these customs from around the globe are sure to inspire:

• Exchange pressed snowdrops (Denmark)

• Pin the name of your one true love on your shirtsleeve (South Africa)

• Offer carved melons and fruit (China)

• Although the Welsh celebrate their patron saint of lovers on January 25, this gift might take the cake: the love spoon. Carved with intricate patterns and symbols, these wooden spoons have been given as tokens of affection for centuries.  



The simplicity of winter has a deep moral. The return of Nature, after such a career of splendor and prodigality, to habits so simple and austere, is not lost either upon the head or the heart. It is the philosopher coming back from the banquet and the wine to a cup of water and a crust of bread. 

—John Burroughs, “The Snow-Walkers,” 1866

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