It’s the end of December and so the next calendar year is almost upon us. For me the new year really begins at Winter Solstice and I am already enjoying the lengthening of the winter days. We are having a wet and warm Christmas season in Ireland, quite a change from last year’s extreme winter weather and a welcome change for most people I think.
I have to admit I really enjoyed last years cold and bright Christmas and I miss the cheer of the snow, this year didn’t feel as festive to me and I have to also admit that I am becoming very tired of the mud that the almost constant rain has brought around my door.
Despite the unseasonal warmth (warmest Irish Christmas on record apparently) we still need to keep our fire lit. I have spent the last hour in the timeless chore of cutting kindling, emptying the ashes from our small stove and laying down the fire-start, I am sure every stove owner has their own way of setting the fire-start depending on what fuel they burn. We burn a mixture of peat briquettes and our own white-thorn wood, cut from the overgrown hedge earlier in the year. My partner and I even have our own ways of setting the briquettes, kindling and paper to start the fire and each is equally successful.
Some days my favourite part of starting the fire is cutting the kindling. At the moment we have a few wood-piles lying between the sitting room and the kitchen in our new house. We have a pile of saw-mill cut timber there which we have used for framing the walls, this pile is dwindling as we run out of wall framing timber (because happily it is in the walls) and the pile of cut-offs has grown. Some of the cut-offs will still be used in various jobs about the house however some pieces are destined to become kindling.
Every few days on of us goes out and picks a piece of wood that looks unsuitable for anything but kindling and we chop it up with our small axe. The chopping block is currently in the bathroom, incidentally that’s also where this year’s Christmas tree is. Doesn’t everyone keep their Christmas tree in the bathroom? Perhaps not. Our tree actually consists of a few Pine boughs that I cut the day before Christmas Eve and tied in a decorative fashion to a framing timber on the wall. I then decorated these with our small stash of Christmas decorations, I couldn’t find the stored box of decorations from last year so it was a bit improvised, none the less it is very pretty.
So the bathroom is very central to our activities this Christmas. The chopping block is a 2foot length of wood, 9x3inches, a cut-off of a roof beam. I enjoy chopping kindling. You really need to focus as your fingers are never far from the axe blade when you make that first incision that grips the piece of wood before you proceed to split it by hammering both the wood and the axe together down on the chopping block. It’s a very satisfying job, mark, split, gather the pieces into a basket.
Ever since axes have been used people have performed this task of making kindling for the fire. Perhaps it is the time of year that made me think of the generations of people, across the world, that tend to the cooking or winter fires, to warm and feed their families. Gathering and cutting firewood in some places or cutting turf, drying it and bringing it home as generations of Irish people have done over the centuries. Storing the winter fuel to keep it dry, ensuring it is not too far from the door especially in snowy or wet winters. For some people now the fire is no longer a necessity, whether or not it is essential the hearth has still a special place in many homes.
Now at the turn of the year I wish you
the warmth of a brightly burning fire
as these lengthening winter days pass.
I wish for you health and contentment in the coming year.