Caught by the River

Cam Ceiliog

21st December 2009

by Richard King.

Today is December 21st Midwinter’s Day, The Winter Solstice. In Wales, in my family and I’m sure many others, this, the shortest day is known as Cam Ceiliog. Like much of the language, and the nation as a whole, especially our fly-halves, it makes sense when considered poetically. Roughly translated, Cam Ceiliog is the length of a cockerel’s step. It describes the distance by which we can see the daylight start to extend as we walk away from the winter’s depths. From this moment, every day grows a little, and the light returns, by the length of a cockerel’s footstep. Cam Ceiliog holds an intangibility to stir the heart. We are just, now, on this shortest of days, at what TS Eliot called ‘the still point of the turning world’.

Garlic, that humble elixir for the winter grey, was traditionally planted on Midwinter’s day and harvested six months later on Midsummer morning. Such horticultural equilibrium turns gardening into alchemy. Though a long way off, Midsummer in all its dancing colour, whether late into the evening or round the back of a tent somewhere in the quickening dawn, is where the mirror is now headed.

Cam Ceiliog suggests a moment of quiet reflection. There is much celebration and cutting loose to come in the next week or so, but Cam Ceiliog is an echo chamber, a wisp of a day that vanishes just as soon as it appears. A day to wander around in your mind’s interior, just a few moments of thought and the shortest day is done. I think of it as a lambent beacon in the dark, a sign to raise a glass and make a quiet toast to your inner Beltane.

In the weeks ahead, if you find yourself sloughing through the back end of winter, and its tendency to immovable gloom – pace yourself. Cam Ceiliog has marked us a path. The daylight is coming. One step at a time.