January comes after the excesses of Christmas, a time when many of us are worn out with the preparations and celebrations of Yuletide. We have experienced sensory overload, or at least know I have. We experience the emotional highs and lows of the season as we limp into January with good intentions and a desire for a new beginning and change. After the indulgence of Christmas I just want to hide under a blanket with a cup of tea, hibernate and contemplate the opportunities of the year ahead. I want to go back to the simple things like reading, sitting quietly, experiencing silence and to take a breather and relax. I find that when I sit in silence I find the answers I am searching for. I like to make notes and make positive plans about future blog posts, art work and where I want to go with it. In January I love to look through the seed catalogues and think about jobs in the garden, such as mulching the veg beds and borders, making sure my tools are clean and sharpened and the plant pots and seed trays are washed and ready to use. I find watching the birds calming and taking a few photographs if I can manage to capture them, busying themselves on the bird feeders. I am looking forward to taking part in the RSPB 'Big Garden Birdwatch', taking place on 27th-29th January. I was very excited having spotted Lapwings for the first time on the local farmland. Such lovely looking birds with iridescent feathers and a fab hairstyle. I am hoping the Greater Spotted Woodpecker will make an appearance to as he normally comes in for his tea around 3pm every day. On fine days I like to get out into nature, listening and thinking as I walk and remembering to just stop and look, to just stand or sit for a minute or two and just take in my surroundings. Cherishing the odd days in January that give us clear blue skies and sunshine. Taking a break from social media, the endless stimulation that scrolls endlessly before our eyes. Silence within and without helps us to let go of the incessant chatter and we get to just be at one with nature and ourselves.
"To read a poem in January is as lovely as to go for a walk in June." - Jean Paul Satre
Whilst researching poems for January, I came across a 17th century poem written by Robert Herrick. It's about the day after the twelfth day of Christmas. Distaff Day or Roc Day which falls upon the 7th January each year, also known as Epiphany. A distaff, or roc, is used in spinning and was a medieval symbol of women's work. Traditionally, it was the day when the festivities of Christmas were over and women went back to their distaffs and resumed their regular daily duties of spinning.
St Distaff's Day; Or, the Morrow after Twelfth -Day
Partly work and partly play
You must on St. Distaff's Day;
From the plough soon free your team;
Then come home and father them;
If the maids a - spinning go,
Burn the flax and fire the tow.
Bring in pails of water then,
Let the maids bewash the men.
Give St. Distaff all the right;
Then bid Christmas sport good night,
And next morrow every one
To his own vocation.
Robert Herrick (1591-1674)
This poem mentions the men folk also got up to some mischief on this day. According to folklore, if Plough Monday fell on the same day as Distaff Day then the men would leave their ploughs and return home to tease the women by setting their flax a light. The women would retaliate by dumping pales of water on the men. A strange tale from folklore that reminds us to not take life to seriously and to appreciate that sometimes it's ok to let go. However, setting light to flax indoors doesn't sound fun to me, but maybe I am thinking to hard about the health and safety aspects of this tale with my modern head.
Plough Monday falls on the first Monday after Twelfth night. During Anglo Saxon times this may have included the plough being blessed in church. The plough having been decorated and then paraded around the village by ploughboys who would perform a play, dance and sing to collect money to be able to keep candles burning in the church for them. These plough traditions were to seek God's blessing for their agricultural tools as the new year began, but just like Distaff Day it was likely to make the return to work after Christmas more palatable. The Christmas season didn't come to end until Candlemas, the last feast of winter on the 2nd February.
January teaches us many things, there is always the opportunity for new beginnings. That as humans we are always in a rush, we don't feel validated unless we have a packed diary. We should take nature as our example, to not fight the darkness, but to embrace it with a slower pace of life, to observe our surroundings and nature. To see that nature is having a rest and so should we. All is still, all is quiet and so this is our opportunity to recuperate and to relax and know that Mother Earth has got this, just go with the flow. It's ok to just stop, wrap up warm, light a candle, read a book, read a poem everyday, observe and you will see slowly but surely the light return and nature will flourish once again. Don't wish the month of January away, it's here to guide and ground us.
“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes… Including you.” Annie Lamott
It leaves me to thank my members, readers and Instagram followers for all of your support, likes and positive comments throughout 2022. I hope you continue to enjoy my blog and artwork throughout 2023 and I'd like to wish you all a happy, healthy and joyful 2023.
Sending you all love & light, Clare
Stay naturally curious...
Books & Resources:
Winters in the World, A journey through the Anglo Saxon year - Eleanor Parker
Red Sky at Night, The book of lost countryside wisdom - Jane Struthers
The Almanac, A seasonal guide to 2023 - Lia Leendertz
Night Sky Almanac, A stargazers guide to 2023 - Storm Dunlop & Will Tirion
12 Birds to Save your Life, nature's lessons in happiness - Charlie Corbett
A Poem for Every Day of the Year - Edited by Allie Esiri