According to our calendar, New Year's Day is still a few weeks off. But according to nature's own timetable, the year will turn next Wednesday, at the winter solstice.
This shortest day and longest night of the year marks the point where the days gradually start to grow lighter.
As distant as spring might seem with so much winter still ahead, the promise of its return can at least be acknowledged.
To celebrate the solstice, park ranger Christine Dean will host a free program Wednesday night at Endicott Park that explores the facts and lore surrounding this pivotal day.
Evergreens, for instance, are a constant part of solstice traditions, beginning with the ancient Romans.
Evergreens must possess divine properties, the Romans believed, because they were able to flourish in spite of winter temperatures.
On a more scientific note, Dean will explain the difference between evergreens and conifers, while contrasting them with the deciduous trees that change with the seasons.
But she will also rely on accounts from another source, older than the Romans, but closer to home.
"There are some really neat Native American stories you can look at that explain why some trees lose their leaves and others keep their needles all year-round," Dean said.
The use of evergreens in Christian tradition will also be discussed, when families meet in the visitors center.
"Decorating the trees at Christmas with apples and lights was the tradition, so we'll actually make some candles," Dean said. "We'll make little lanterns that we'll take out on our walk to signify the light. Instead of apples, we'll make pinecone bird feeders."
Yule logs are another tradition that traveled from ancient to Christian cultures, and families at the solstice celebration will decorate their own with evergreen and berries.
Wishes for the new year are written on slips of paper and attached to the logs before they are burned.
At the end of the evening, Dean will lead families outside to hang their bird feeders on trees and to throw their yule logs in a campfire while cups of hot cocoa are served.
Dean, who has a master's degree in environmental education, is one of four full-time park rangers employed by Danvers at Endicott Park, along with one part-time ranger.
Most of the park's environmental education programs take place during the summer, but Dean, who was hired in September, is helping expand those programs through the rest of the year.
"This is now a new movement toward more environmental education programs, a greater variety," said Dave Townley, who wrote the master plan for the 165-acre park in 1972 and has worked there as a ranger ever since.
In addition to the solstice celebration and other programs that are being introduced, the park features miles of exercise and hiking trails, and in winter offers plenty of space for cross-country skiing and hills for sledding.
While there is no charge for the solstice celebration, registration is required.
If you go
What: Winter solstice celebration
Where: Endicott Park, 57 Forest St., Danvers
When: Wednesday, Dec. 21, 4 to 6 p.m.
More information: Free; registration required at 978-777-0001, ext. 3094, or www.danversrec.com.