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November 1st is the first day of Winter if you are a Celt, not that you’d know it from the oh so mild weather. On the other hand, walking to Brownies with my daughter last night in the dark for the first time in months, past windows adorned with pumpkin lanterns and flickering candles did make it feel like we’re heading towards the end of the year.

To the Welsh today is known as Calan Gaeaf and is a time of reflection, slowing down and holding onto what’s important. It’s a time for moving inside after months spent almost entirely out of doors. It’s about bonfires and comfort food and sitting round the hearth with those you hold dear. And if you’ve had enough of the Halloween tat that has swamped the shops this year more than ever, it has a lot to offer to the soul.

We don’t need much of an excuse for a party here but we like to do things our own way. Here’s how we do it.

  • Decorate the house with flickering candles, pumpkin lanterns, wreaths of leaves, and garlands of chinese gooseberries.
  • Light a fire. We’re opting for a bonfire on the allotment – as we had a pile of hedge clippings and brambles to dispose of but you could just as easily keep it indoors and sit round the hearth.
  • Cook something special. Soup served in a hollowed out pumpkin is good, baked potatoes cooked on the bonfire, toffee apples, marshmallows, apple cake. You get the idea. It’s warming, wholesome, seasonal and easy.
  • Play games together. Apple bobbing, conkers, eating marshmallows from bits of string with your hands tied behind your back. Read or tell stories by firelight.
  • Try to find a time to be reflective about what’s past and to plan for the future as you move into the dark days of Winter. Just as important for children as well as adults and it’s highly revealing to hear what your children really think, when given space and a special opportunity. We sometimes write messages on paper fire lanterns, light them and let them go. Whenwe were at Stourhead last week a ‘reflection tree’ had been set up for visitors. It was made from hazel prunings, small brown envelopes and bits of garden twine. Visitors could write messages to hang on the tree and leave them there for others to see. What a great idea, and so easily adapted for use at home.

It doesn’t have to be today, of course. Don’t get stressed. This is a celebration just as easily adapted for Bonfire Night, Halloween or in fact any evening round about this time of year when the nights get dark early and you want to spend a special time with your nearest and dearest.

Calan Gaeaf Hapus ……..have a happy start to the wintery season.