Merryspring’s First Winter Wassail Celebrates Solstice

On Saturday, December 19, Merryspring Nature Center held its first Winter Wassail celebration to welcome the winter solstice. An exuberant gathering of children and adults crowded around the lighting of a jatkankyntiila,or Scandinavian log candle. Prepared by Eric Evans of the American Chestnut Society, the upright jule log brightly burned in the early dusk as the darkest part of the year reached its turning point. The winter solstice marks the beginning of winter and also the barely perceptible lengthening of the days. From the earliest times,
northern cultures celebrated this time of year, honoring trees, birds and animals for the sustenance they provide and evergreens for their year-round presence.

Local Boy Scout Troop 200 and their leaders were in charge of two fire pits over which Evans roasted American chestnuts gathered from the park’s own experimental orchard while fire thrower Daniel Bennett juggled torches of fire. The melodic voices of the Monday Singers entertained the bystanders.

In the nearby ground-level craft area, volunteers assisted children in making holly and boxwood wreaths and wands as well as pinecone bird feeders.

Inside the warm building, Liza Gardner Walsh read from her new book, Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows?, a rapt audience seated around her. Guests then drank to each other’s health with hot wassail, a time-honored beverage made with cider and spices. Merryspring Trustee Susan Shaw conducted a children’s choir singing White Coral Bells, Autumn Roundelay, Dip, Dip and Swing, and Wintertime’s a Comin’. This was followed by readings and more songs from the Monday Singers. Youngsters scooped birdseed from a tub filled with little surprises – food for the birds and something for them.

Organized by Susan Shaw, Program Director Brett Willard, Board President Ray Andresen, and other Merryspring personnel, the Winter Wassail Celebration was enjoyed by a gathering of around 50 people, young and old.