New Year’s Day was not the shortest day of the year.
But for the estimated 350 people who attended the Solstice and New Year Bonfire at Somme Woods in Northbrook, the afternoon was long on warmth.
“It’s tremendous,” said Kathy Youngberg of Northbrook, among those who walked the length of maybe two city blocks from a parking lot through the woods.
At the site, the unlit bonfire included wood stacked about 20 feet high.
While the winter solstice was Dec. 21 (the shortest day of the year), the 2016 Solstice Bonfire, held on Jan. 1 in 2017, was supposed to take place locally on Dec. 18.
The event was renamed and moved to Jan 1 when sub-zero conditions were predicted for last month’s date.
Sunday’s New Year’s Day bonfire began with a procession under blue skies at 39 degrees at 2 p.m.
In front of the line was Marty Maneck of Deerfield, bagpiper, and John Schuman of Northbrook who played the drum called a djembe.
“I’m delighted to be here,” Schuman said with a smile.
Families followed while some children carried symbols of the solstice.
In that procession were leashed puppies, many recently received for Christmas. Some parents pushed baby strollers over logs, ice and timber.
People brought folding chairs and used walking sticks. Helping hands assisted others who carried canes over the uneven terrain.
The beaten path was marked with small flags but there were folks meandering off the trail.
“It’s a beautiful day,” said Linda Masters of Northbrook, a volunteer and site steward.
“It (solstice bonfire) is appropriate for New Year’s Day but it is a solstice.
“So I have mixed feelings about it,” Masters said.
Masters said the event has existed annually for about two decades.
The winter bonfire is sponsored by the Forest Preserves of Cook County, the Friends of the Somme Preserves and the North Branch Restoration Project.
“It’s a gorgeous day,” said Stephen Packard of Northbrook, a volunteer with the Friends of the Somme Preserves and also a site steward.
Packard said the bonfire is a favorite event of the year for his volunteer group.
“We celebrate nature, we celebrate the woods, we celebrate another year,” Packard said.
Eriko Kojima of Glenview became emotional in the parking lot while greeting friends and colleagues.
Cars eventually filled the forest preserve lot off of Dundee Road east of Waukegan Road.
“I’m pretty happy, I am,” she said.
“I’m crying because of being too happy.
“Tears of happiness,” added Kojima, a volunteer since summer of 2015 on forest preserve restoration.
The lengthening days of the solstice warm people and ecosystems. People have celebrated the launch of the mild season with solstice bonfires for thousands of years.
“Everyone is here in the woods which is wonderful because these are people who love the woods, love nature,” Kojima said.
“I think that’s worth being happy about.”
Before the bonfire was started, people added twigs or branches as a tribute or personal contribution.
The bulk of the bonfire was built with wood from invasive species removed from Somme Woods, much of it buckthorn.
The bonfire’s main frame took weeks to assemble, Packard said. When the fire began, people had to move back several times due to the increased heat of the flames.
“A little toasty,” someone said.
“I feel the warmth,” said another person.
The bagpiper played, people sang, one woman danced the jig.
“I’m Irish so to be at a Celtic ritual on New Year’s Day is great and appropriate,” said Mike Ferren of Northbrook.
People could help themselves to free homemade baked goods, plus hot chocolate and warm spiced cider set on a long table. Black walnuts were offered freshly cracked from their shells.
As the fire waned, attendees walked the path back in the setting sun, some stopping first to see Rob Sulski of Glenview, who held an unnamed red-tailed hawk.
Sulski, a falconer, also brought another wild bird, a goshawk, which he had presented earlier to attendees before the procession began.
People also complimented Maneck on his bagpipe talent, now heard for the fourth time at this solstice bonfire.
Maneck shared what he hoped for the world for 2017.
“Stop fighting,” he said.
— Northbrook welcomes in winter with New Year bonfire —