To celebrate the Winter Solstice, i-D cover star and glamorous gardener Scarlett Cannon tells a tale or two about Yule, lends tips on DIY wreaths and sows seeds for the year ahead.
Christmas time again. The ancient Romans celebrated Saturnalia. For me it’s Yule, one of the eight Sabbats of the pagan calendar. Yule, or Winter Solstice is celebrated on 21st December, although it’s a moveable feast, the actual date being linked to astronomy. As a gardener and a grower I try to quietly mark each of the Sabbats, often on Magic plot 7, my beloved allotment. Many Christian festivals have absorbed festival dates from the pagan calendar which celebrates The Wheel of The Year, the annual cycle of the Earth, nature and her seasons, sowing, growing and harvesting.
It’s easy to see the pagan origins of the modern Christmas tree – an evergreen spruce, pine or fir – covered with lights and decorations. The Yule Sabbat embraces the delicate balance of light and dark, celebrating the rebirth of the Sun which has been declining since the Summer Solstice (21st June), and now begins to increase in strength and light. Reminded that life will begin again nature is brought into the home in the form of evergreen plants. Holly’s red berries symbolise the resting Mother Goddess, while its dark green leaves symbolise the Holly King who reigns from midsummer to midwinter. Holly is a masculine plant, Ivy is feminine. At Yule the Oak King is reborn to reign until midsummer. Mistletoe is considered magical because it grows between the earth and the sky and has no roots. Nowadays Mistletoe is associated with a Christmas kiss, a practice possibly derived from the sexual licence of Saturnalia. The Yule log was brought into the home and candles placed on it, although as paganism was once commonly observed worldwide there are many slightly varying versions of its historical origin.
There is no place in my home for a wire coat hanger, the presence of which has been known to send me into a Mommy Dearest-style frenzy, but bent into a circle it makes an excellent frame for a Christmas wreath. Wrap ivy around the frame, round and round and round, binding in stems of holly, winter flowering jasmine, glossy-leaved camellia or bay and foliage from yew or fir. Eucalyptus stems look and smell amazing and Dogwood stems add colour. Continually winding the vine to hold each piece in place, finish it with some berry stems, rosehips and mistletoe.
All festivals require food, and although it is midwinter and we are all complaining about the cold it’s actually been very mild this year which means there’s still plenty of fresh food on Magic Plot 7. There are carrots, beetroot and parsnips in the ground as well as leeks and a profusion of fresh leafy greens. Oriental Greens in particular do well in a British winter and provide a valuable source of fresh food when little else is available. I’m currently eating from a large swathe of mizuna and corn salad, land cress, lettuce and radicchio, red and savoy cabbages, perpetual spinach and delicious lemony sorrel. I’ve recently sown broad bean seeds to overwinter for next year’s early crop, and so the whole cycle begins again.
Text and Photography: Scarlett Cannon