In the days leading up to the winter solstice (which is tomorrow, by the way), I enjoyed reading a newly-released essay by Nina MacLaughlin. I had been browsing in a local bookstore, and the title immediately caught my eye: Winter Solstice: An Essay. This slim volume (88 pages) was the perfect thing for me to read right now.

Although the book “blurb” on Goodreads mentions that “the luminous prose pushes back the dark,” I didn’t find that to be completely true. Instead, I’d say the “luminous prose” (for that is certainly what this essay offers) doesn’t “push back the dark” so much as it . . . invites us to become more comfortable with the dark, to accept it and revel in it, to understand and celebrate it. And . . . to encourage us to bring our light to that darkness, too.

One of the things I most enjoyed about this little volume is the Addendum on “Plant Matter” at the end. The author explains that there are specific plants and herbs that are most strongly associated with the winter solstice, and that these are often used for decking-the-halls or burning in fires or for making into tinctures and teas. She specifically mentions cedar, clove, rosemary, nutmeg, birch, pine, chamomile, juniper, frankincense, wintergreen, holly, blessed thistle, mistletoe, cinnamon, yew, and oak. She provides further background on a select few of these plants, and I thought I’d share her words on one of my favorite winter spices . . . cinnamon.


It comes from the innards of the tree, extracted from below the bark and let to dry, and it curls into rolls as it does. Scrolls of rust-colored spice, grated into powder, dusted over the apple crisp, a glass of thick rich eggnogg, buttered toast, sugar cookies. A familial smell, a smell that lives in our minds before we’ve even smelled it, inherited from thousands of years of global trade, of boats and caravans, travelers crossing sea and land to deliver new flavors to the mouth. Cinnamaldehyde brings the smell, an unappealing set of syllables for a smell of warmth, ovens and forests, color of fallen oak leaves, of darkened honey. It’s an antioxidant, an anti-inflammatory, it lowers blood sugar. It’s said to increase circulation, too, widening the vessels, especially in the abdomen and between the legs. More blood flow, more warmth, a special heat, more babies are conceived this time of year than any other. Rattle of cinnamon stick in the jar, dust on your fingertips, a stranger at the door.

— Nina MacLaughlin in Winter Solstice: An Essay

Can’t you just smell the cinnamon from here?



After seeing my advent calendar post this morning, Tom shared this post-it note with me . . . showing the chemical structure of cinnamaldehyde. I thought you might find it interesting. Besides . . . it’s his 65th birthday today, so I’m happy to have him contribute to my post! (What I was most charmed by . . . is that he just knew it off the top of his head. Chemists really do speak an entirely different language.)


If you’re wondering what this “advent calendar” is all about, you can read my “intro” post here.