Short days and long nights of darkness have become the norm as the December solstice, the winter solstice in our northern hemisphere draws near. Dec. 21 is the shortest day of the year — the day with the fewest hours of daylight. It is also known as the official first day of winter — deemed so by astronomers and scientists.
It is sometimes referred to as the day the sun turns around, and on this date, the hours of daylight begin to gradually increase, and the days grow longer again.
The brilliant colors of autumn have fallen to the dull grays and browns of wintertime. Days are short and temperatures are cold. Official or not, winter is here. But alas, the holiday season has arrived in all its glorious splendor! Sparkling lights of many colors and the glitter of gold and silver are a distraction from the harsh bitterness of wintertime. The spirit of the Christmas season has arrived to warm us on even the coldest of days.
The birds seem to sense the specialness of the season, too. Or maybe they are just rejoicing because I have finally refilled the empty feeders since getting home from a southern Thanksgiving celebration. It has taken me a couple days, but the tubes and trays are full again, and no one in the backyard is complaining — including the squirrels. Can you believe that the ruby-throated hummingbirds are still visiting regularly in North Myrtle Beach?
The sun shines brightly today after several dreary days of rain and fog, and I notice spots of red in the landscape in the front lawn. A close look reveals three mature holly trees; two of them are heavily covered in red berries. Splinter's parents gave us the holly trees many years ago (two decades?). His Dad dug them out of his own yard and helped Splinter plant them on our property.
The holly berries are an important source of nourishment for songbirds during the winter months — birds that include blue jays, robins, mockingbirds, and red-bellied woodpeckers. It seems that deer delight in eating holly berries, too. In fact, the deer may enjoy the leaves even more than the berries.
They can't hurt the large holly trees, but they sure have annihilated the holly bushes that once served as foundation plants around our house.
Closer to the house we have a lovely hawthorn tree that was planted much more recently than the holly trees. Its autumn foliage is colorful, but by now the leaves have fallen and given way to a thick cover of bright orange-red berries. I was sure that a flock of robins that descended upon it two weeks ago would have emptied the tree of all its berries, but that didn't happen. Perhaps the berries weren't quite ripe enough, and the robins decided to save the feast for another day. Is that possible?
My favorite spot of red in the backyard right now is the handsome male cardinal garbed in a crimson suit that I see resting on a high branch of a mighty oak tree. The sun is shining on his throat making him a brilliant spectacle as he surveys the holiday scene from his lofty perch. He is beautiful, and I can imagine him perched on the cover of a Christmas card.
The stunning red cardinal is featured on many greeting cards at this time of year — often accompanied by his mate. She is always adorned in plumes of warm taupe with subtle hints of red. They appear huddled together as they share their warmth — a perfect symbol of the love and blessings of the Christmas season.
Bright colors, dazzling lights, red birds, tinsel and glitter, ribbons and bows, Santa Claus and sleigh rides, busy shoppers, Christmas cookies, snowmen, nativity scenes, Christmas carolers, decorative wreaths, school vacation, holiday traditions, families and friends gathered to share the blessings of love that the spirit of the season brings.
Songbirds and squirrels feasting at the feeders together as they celebrate the warmth of the season even on the coldest days.
Whatever the holidays mean to you, may the colors and sounds of the season brighten the dark days of winter. May they put a glimmer in your heart and bring a smile to your face — and lots of birds to your backyard.