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New year, new rituals

It's shortly after 3.30 in the afternoon as I start to write this. I've just been downstairs to put the kettle on and noticed something amazing. I've talked before about one of my favourite possessions, a battery operated candle with a timer. I know it seems unlikely but it brings substantial amounts of joy to my life. I get it out around the winter solstice and programme it to come on as it gets dark; every day thereafter it comes on at the same time and flickers away with a gentle light throughout the evening for 6 hours. It's a welcome sight in my hallway during the dark evenings. This afternoon as I went downstairs, my eye was drawn first to the candle, and then to the window. It wasn't yet getting dark outside; it's a gloomy day but it is still very much daytime rather than dusk. When I first turned the candle on at this time, three weeks ago on the solstice, it felt very much like evening. Three short weeks and the light is definitely starting to return. Another three weeks and it will be Imbolc the festival at the start of February that marks the beginning of the end of winter. I'm worried that this makes it sound like I am wishing the year away; far from it, I get so much happiness from the small rituals and celebrations based around nature that punctuate my year.

Yesterday I read a post on social media from someone who had heard their first blackbird of the year. This morning I stepped outside for my early morning walk and was greeted with song. Searching above me in the tree, through the gloom I finally located the yellow beak of a blackbird. Serendipity. A simple way to experience awe. The previous day I had popped to the supermarket for bread and there in the entrance was a bucket of daffodils; my first bunch of daffs is one of the most significant days of my year. I'm not one for cut flowers at any other time of year.

What do you know about Finnish jazz? I'm hoping it's as much as me, aka not very much, as I want to be the first person to share this with you! I was captivated by a piece of music on the radio as I made breakfast this morning, so much so that I stopped to listen and find out more. It was a piece called, appropriately enough, January from an album called My Finnish Calendar by jazz pianist Iiro Rantala, which consists of a composition for each month of the year. And so a new ritual is born, I had already resolved to try and listen to more music this year, and now I have a specific piece of music to track down every month. Reading more about the album, the composer has added explanations. He calls January "the month of regret" explaining that the Finns, although I don't think this is exclusive to Finnish people, regret having spent too much money as well as eaten and drunk too much over the festive season. He doesn't believe that then having a Dry January makes the Finns a happier people! I think this nature of regret and what he captures in the piece reflect the way we can feel in January, regretful that the twinkling lights have been switched off, the parks and pavements are full of sludgy leaves and puddles, everything is a little bit grey and forlorn. Don't despair though, the shoots of rebirth are already showing above the earth. However, take it slowly. Let me finish with a quote from Lia Leendertz's 2023 Almanac: "The light will come soon enough. Don't fight the darkness." I recommend signing up to her newsletter Lia's Living Almanac for inspirational updates throughout the year.

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