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Adair Ela putting out home-made luminarias along the top of the farm's encircling rock wall Christmas Eve near the entrance greeting sign, "We believe in Equality, Peace, Kindness, Love, Justice, Hope".

Adair Ela putting out home-made luminarias along the top of the farm’s encircling rock wall Christmas Eve.

When we think of a new year we think of new beginnings, of light or maybe hope refreshed, of energy reinvigorated. What is the most powerful marker of those things, and when is it a new year?

single luminaria - a candle glowing inside a lunch-sack sized paper bag with the rim folded down, casting a gentle light onto snow around it in the darkness

‘a single luminaria, one of 127 this year, casting a gentle light onto the snow around it’

Can you imagine if we turned off the power grid and extinguished all our heating throughout our society in the dead of the solstice (usually around December 21) night? The return of light would certainly become as notable in modern society as it was/is in pre-industrial ones.

In the northern hemisphere, the winter solstice is the longest night/shortest day of the year. Some peoples here used to extinguish all their fires on the night of the winter solstice, then relight them from scratch as a new beginning.

On the farm we really see this. Following the solstice, as the sun starts its return to longer days, the amount of solar energy coming our way starts coming back too (yay!). All the fruit trees depend on sunlight for their lives and for their ability to produce sugars in their fruit. Our farm gets 70%-80% of the electrical energy we use from solar panels. Does the new year begin with the solar turn-around of the winter Solstice?

Luminarias line the waist - high stacked rock wall on each side of the entrance to Ela Family Farms. They are illuminating two conical giant spruce trees.

Luminarias line the waist – high stacked rock wall on each side of the entrance to Ela Family Farms.

There are other ways to think of it though. Although the sunlight is returning, we are just beginning our winter season. It’s a time many of us would like to just curl up by a fire and rest. The trees, too, need to rest. In fact, they must accumulate a certain number of Chill Units, or chill hours (hours between 32° – 45°F) before they will emerge from dormancy and set fruit. That is certainly not a predictable calendar date – it depends entirely on the weather.

The almost-full moon shines down on an old apple orchard at Ela Family Farms. It is bordered by a stacked-rock wall along the right side, and home-made luminarias shine along the length of the rock wall.

The almost-full moon shines down on an old apple orchard at Ela Family Farms. Luminarias illuminate the length of the bordering dry-stacked rock wall.

So is the new year Chill Unit or weather related? Does the new year begin when the fruit trees emerge from dormancy, perhaps? Or maybe when blooms emerge? Or something else?

This winter the full moon occurred just a few days after the solstice. So we have a kind of new lunar year, though the Chinese lunar new year isn’t until the start of February. And Diwali, the festival of lights in the Hindu calendar which combines lunar and solar calendars, marks the triumph of light over darkness with the new year starting the following day, but occurs around the start of November. And of course there’s the tradition of counting down the last moments of December 31 to a grand finale of clinking glasses and maybe fireworks ushering in a new calendar year.

Steve Ela carrying paper bag luminarias to distribute along the rock wall

Steve distributing luminarias along the rock wall

Is the new year related to solstices or to moon cycles? To a calendar we can mark with vows and parties? Each year Steve makes candles which we use for a light display on Christmas Eve, lining the dry-stacked rock wall which surrounds a big part of our farm with luminarias which burn well into the night. That is an annual ritual of quiet, and of time coming together and sharing beauty. It certainly marks a turning point for us. It has the feeling of closure, and of something renewed. Maybe this is our new year.

 

 

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