Hot chocolate on the hill

Following in Celtic footsteps, we welcome spring with our own family ritual.

Silhouetted against the sunset, an adult and a child on a bench and a dog sitting next to them.

Rituals bring predictability to an uncertain world. They allow us, as humans, to feel like we have some control over the chaos and a connection to the community around us. Our family has a ritual to welcome the coming of spring: we climb the hill near our house to watch the sunset and drink hot chocolate.

It happens one day in late winter. Not a particular day, just one that feels right. A day when the winter sun warms just a little more intensely and lingers just a little longer. This year, that day was 1 February – the Celtic festival of Imbolc.

Held to welcome spring, Imbolc was a feast of purification for farmers. How glad must they have been to see glimpses of spring ahead as the long nights began to shorten? Compared to a Celtic farmer living thousands of years ago, we have it easy. We can hide indoors during the worst of winter and turn up the thermostat against the cold.

But in our household we find that denial can only take us so far – we long for an end to the short and, thanks to climate change, increasingly wet days of winter. We tire of TV, reading and board games. We want to be outside. So once Christmas is done, we look forward to hot chocolate day.

Near and distant hills silhouetted against a sunset that is turning the clouds pink against the pale blue sky.

This year, we decided the time was right as a rare spell of high pressure cleared the skies for a few days. When G arrived home from school, the lengthening shadows seemed to say to us: "Drink hot chocolate on the hill."

And so we packed the equipment required for our own Imbolc ritual: the flask, the hats, the mittens, the camera. We donned our boots, clipped the dog on to her lead and set off up to the traditional spot.

The walk was uneventful, but our timing was perfect; the sun was setting as we arrived at the bench just below the ridge. I poured the hot chocolate, then stepped back to snap a photo of J, G and the dog silhouetted against the blue and pink sky.

We know this ritual will evolve. G will leave primary school, and life will take him away from the hill, from us. But for now it is our Imbolc, the start of spring.