Adoration of the Magi

To anyone who works outdoors in the gardening world, winter solstice is "a very exciting time of year," says Red Butte Garden's Julie Rabb. "The return of the sun means that we can once again grow food to sustain us, can work the soil. Through history we have had such a connection to the sun."

That's why Red Butte Garden has brought back its Solstice Festival. It's back by popular demand, Rabb says. "We haven't done it since 2004 or '05. A lot of people have asked for it."

The celebration on Saturday will include storytelling, evergreen crafts, hot chocolate, fire cauldrons and yule logs. "People can make ivy wreaths to wear. We'll have Father Oak — who symbolizes strength; plus, oak is why Red Butte is here — and Mother Earth. We'll talk about ethnobotany and the connections we have always had to plants."

People are also encouraged just to walk around the garden. "It's still so magical, even though it is covered with snow," she says. "This is such a special time in the plant world," and for people in general, she says. "Just knowing the days are going to start getting longer, that gives you a lot of hope."

Solstice trivia

• As the sun approaches the winter solstice, it continues to set at the same time each evening for the last several days, but it comes up slightly later and later in the morning until we reach the shortest day of the year.

• Winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere is also the first day of summer in the Southern Hemisphere. On this day, the atmosphere above the South Pole receives more light from the sun than any other place on Earth — yet the temperature still averages about -10 degrees F.

• On the day of the winter solstice, the sun is directly overhead at noon only along the Tropic of Capricorn. That would put it over such places as Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the southern part of Madagascar.

• John the Baptist is the saint of the summer solstice, while John, the Evangelist, is the saint of the winter solstice. One old saying notes: "John and John divide the year."

• In medieval times, the days between Christmas and Epiphany were thought to predict the weather for the rest of the year. As the saying went, "Watch the appearance of the 12 days of Christmas, for according to these 12 days, the 12 months will have their course."

• There was also supposed to be a strong connection between Christmas and Easter — the two most holy days of the year. If one was good, the other was supposed to be bad. "Christmas on the balcony, means Easter by the hearth." Or, "He that warms himself by the sun at Christmas, burns the Christmas log at Easter."

• Christmas weather was also used to predict the growing season: "At Christmas, a hard frost heralds the fine ears of corn." Or, "The brighter the moon is at Christmas, the more fine apples there'll be."

Thanks to Adam

One ancient tradition credits Adam, as the first man, with being the first person to discover the winter solstice.

As the account tells it, Adam was repentant after being cast out of the Garden of Eden, and stood in the Jordan River for 40 days in penance. As he stood there, he noticed that the days were getting shorter and shorter, and feared that his partaking of the forbidden fruit was causing the world to come to an end.

Adam started fasting and praying for eight days. For eight days, he continued — and noticed that the days were getting longer again.

The next year, Adam remembered this occurrence, and prayed and celebrated at the turning of the year.

SOURCES: "Beyond the Blue Horizon: Myths & Legends of the Sun, Moon, Stars & Planets," by E.C. Krupp; "4000 Years of Christmas," by Earl W. and Alice Lawson Count; "The Sky: Mystery, Magic and Myth" by Jean-Pierre Verdet; "Hark! A Christmas Sampler," by Jane Yolen and Tomie de Paola; "Christmas Treevia," by D. Peter Harrington;

If you go

What: Winter Solstice Festival

Where: Red Butte Garden

When: Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

How much: adults, $8; children and seniors, $6