According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the winter solstice is defined as either of the two annual moments when the path of the sun is farthest south in the Northern hemisphere on December 21st or 22nd and farthest north in the Southern hemisphere on June 20th or 21st. Because the solstice is the shortest day of the year, we tend to associate it with the immense dark and intense quiet that winter brings when, in truth, what this moment actually represents is the return of the light. In terms of astrology, the solstice is marked by the ingress of the sun into Capricorn, one of the zodiac’s four cardinal signs that signals, by definition, that it is time to begin anew. This year’s solstice officially occurred on Wednesday, December 21st at 4:48 in the afternoon, but please don’t be alarmed if you missed it. Solstice energy lingers, and this particular one is followed by today’s new moon in Capricorn, which represents the perfect time for setting new intentions. The solstice is the standing still of the sun in its most far away place and, as such, it invites us to also find a point of stillness and reflection within ourselves. As we pause, we turn to look behind us and gather the lessons brought to us by the past year, finding wisdom as we rest in this moment of consideration, before we turn our eyes towards the future and the hopes and fears that it inevitably brings. What have we learned? What can we release? What will we dare to encounter or dream?
Whenever I think about the concepts of how our past, present, and future are interwoven, especially two days before Christmas, I cannot stop myself from going in the direction of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. We’re all familiar with the story. Ebenezer Scrooge is a stingy, nasty man who brings nothing but unhappiness into the lives of everyone associated with him. He is unable to find joy anywhere, even at Christmas, but he wasn’t always that way. There was a time in his life when he did know happiness and was well-loved by many people. He needs a means of connecting with this former self, and so the universe delivers one in the form of three ghosts who come to visit him on Christmas Eve. They are the infamous Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Future. There are several retellings of this same story, the most well-loved being It’s a A Wonderful Life, but my personal favorite is The Family Man with Nicholas Cage and Téa Leoni, a movie that was a Christmas Eve tradition when my kids were still all at home. The central question of both of these films holds true to Dickens’ original story: if you were given a glimpse of your future, and you knew what you needed to change about your present that’s somehow related to a decision you made in the past, would you have the courage to do it?
Unfortunately we are not Scrooge or Nicholas Cage and our opportunity to see the potential of a different future will not be given to us by visiting spirits. That’s something that we have to create for ourselves by taking a moment to sit down and truly reflect on where we are and where we’re headed, just as the energy of the solstice suggests. In this place of stillness, we can invoke our own Ghost of Christmas Past and allow ourselves to consider pivotal points, especially in this past year, when we chose one road over another. We all have them. What could we have done differently that would have changed the course that the remainder of the year took for us? Who did we impact by making some of the choices that we did? As for Christmas Present, we might ask ourselves how comfortable we’d be flying around with a fat, jolly spirit in a beautiful robe to drop in and listen on conversations other people are having about us. Do we have a clue as to what they’d be saying? If we find the idea terrifying, then it might mean that we do know, and there’s reason to be worried. What can we change to bring more joy into other people’s lives? Is that a question that we spend enough time contemplating? It might just be the most important one of all, especially if we imagine what we could make of this world if we considered it every day.
Finally, there is a reason why Christmas Yet to Come fills Ebenezer Scrooge with dread. He is the very personification of all that is unknown, shrouded in darkness with a face that cannot be seen. Ebenezer’s fear of him and of the future is cut from the same cloth as our fear of the longest night of the year and the winter ahead. And yet, this final visitor brings the most powerful of the three messages, as darkness often does. When Ebenezer throws open the shutters on Christmas morning, he realizes that he’s been given that second chance to make amends, to live differently, to find and give joy. No matter what it is that we think we’ve chosen or done, no matter what deep despair we have faced, we are always forgivable and capable of forgiveness, and we will always find strength and courage that we didn’t know we had. And so the light returns. It finds its way in through the cracks where we think we’ve been broken, and through the windows we are willing to open, infinitesimally at first, but then so bright that we move to raise our hands up to our faces, until we realize that there is no need to ever do so.
For today’s cocktail, my initial thought was that it needed to have an unusual combination of ingredients in it. I began with a colorless brandy from Bolivia called Sociedad Agroindustrial Singani that is nothing short of fabulous. It’s made from Muscat of Alexandria grapes that are grown in the Andes mountains at altitudes that actually change their physical composition so that they become incredibly floral and aromatic. I decided that this would be my base spirit, and from here I’d do a riff on a Negroni. I needed a bitter element next, but because I had to be careful not to overpower the Singani, I chose Suze, a gentian based spirit from France that I happen to love. Its bright yellow coloring worked as a perfect symbol of the return of the light that the solstice brings, and its flavor is delicate enough to truly complement the Singani, rather than overwhelm it. The third component in a Negroni is vermouth, and I decided immediately on Dolin Blanc, with its honey sweetness and hint of herbal bitterness. I tasted the cocktail at this point and something was still missing. I tried adding a number of the DRAM Apothecary bitters before landing on the Palo Santo, with the secret hope that this would be the one that would work. Palo Santo is, after all, a sacred wood that is believed to contain mystical properties that lead to enlightenment. Finally I went with a bay leaf as my garnish because it symbolizes wisdom gained through experience. With the addition of the bitters and the bay leaf, all of the elements of this cocktail came together just as I hoped they would. The end result was truly magical. Cheers everyone. Happy Friday and Merry Christmas! I wish you light, and peace, and joy.
1 oz Sociedad Agroindustrial Singani*
1 oz Suze Saveur d’Autrefois*
1 oz Dolin Blanc*
1 dash DRAM Apothecary Palo Santo bitters
Long, long stir in a mixing glass 2/3 filled with ice.
Single strain into a cocktail glass.
Garnish with the bay leaf.
*All three ingredients are available at Benash Liquors on Route 38 in Cherry Hill, NJ.