The midwinter solstice, and the traditions surrounding those shortening days that seem to miraculously turn into lengthening rays of light and hope, have always seemed to me to be a particularly feminine celebration. Indeed in pagan, and other ancient naturalistic and tribal traditions, it is the dark energy of the feminine, the life-giving and primal darkness of the female womb, that is honoured and celebrated as solstice plunges the northern hemisphere into darkness, and re-births the sun with the dawn of a new day and a new solar year.
For me the evidence of this particularly female energy of abundance and prosperity can be seen in the way in which our kitchens and households churn out feast-loads of seasonal delights, preserves from autumnal harvests, and warm sugary confections in sheer defiance of the ever advancing power and might of ice and dark and snow. Not only in the kitchens, but in other aspects of our domestic lives, for as long as human societies have existed in the northern hemisphere, we have sewn and knitted, woven and sat together in a communion of making, and nourishing, celebrating and flourishing, as outside, the shadows of elm and maple and oak continued to lengthen their dark midwinter gnarls towards our hearth fires.
It is a display and celebration of all the nurturing, life-giving, and abundant energies of our domestic, human domain in the face of the bleak, and icy scarcity that most defines the energies of the natural world at this time of year.
For myself, and my little forest life, in my little forest cottage by stormy Pacific seas, this time of year I hold in special reverence. As the gloom of midwinter enlarges, most people use the festivities and traditions of this season to wish away the tedious nights and too-short days as the long wait for spring begins.
But I have always used the hail and the rain, the wintry blasts from the mountains and the stormy sleet from the ocean, as ways to retreat further into the comforting little acts of rural winter life that, for me, most define these days of transition between solstice and the spring equinox. The age old movements of knitting and baking, forest walking and twilight dreaming, gathering and making, writing and reading; these are the simple acts that quieten my mind and bring me closer to a deeper appreciation of this tempestuous and temperamental season. They help me to absorb and appreciate the natural cycles of dark and light, of icy cold turning into warming sun as the days continue to lengthen at a glacial yet steady pace. These old domestic rituals also connect me with the generations of women, from our earliest forest dwelling mothers to our more recent ancestors of country cottage and woodland lodges, who sought comfort and nourishment in these same acts, surrounded by the same darkness, and the same wintry landscapes.
Because, even as the pilgrims and worshippers, solstice revellers and christmas carollers, return home from their own midwinter rituals of temples, stone-circles, fire dances and midnight masses; even as the new sun peaks her strengthening orb over the horizon to gaze over hill and glade; even in the depth of a seemingly bleak midwinter morning, mother nature is already busy putting forth new life; buds stand poised and brimming, and the comforting green of new growth returns to bush, bramble, and maple.
So it is in this spirit of embracing not just the longing for Spring and the lengthening of sun beams, but also the equally nourishing quietness of the still prevailing darkness of these days, that I present to you this pattern for a pair of hand knitted fingerless mittens. And, as I sit by my little hearth on this dark and stormy early January night, it is my hope that both the knitting and the wearing of these will comfort your spring-seeking hearts and warm your winter weary hands, from now till the unfurling of the first buds of May.