The Longest Night

I am, dear ones, still yarn-less. The package hasn’t arrived, and I keep thinking about throwing some sort of a fit about that, but I find myself unable to work up a good head of steam about it.  Maybe it’s that so much has gone right so far, or maybe it’s that I’ve spent part of the day texting with my sister. There is a perspective in being able to do that this year, the gifts I’ve yet to make don’t seem so important when I think about the gifts we’ve already been given. Erin is reasonable well, Megan is expecting a baby, my friends and family are safe and warm.  Today is one of my favourite days of the year, and I’ve spent most of it getting ready for our gathering tonight, when so many of my favourite women will arrive here, and I’ll light the candles, and the ice lanterns, and bring light to the darkest day of the year.  It’s 3:40 as I write this, and just becoming twilight – a short day indeed. Tomorrow there will be a fraction more light, as this hemisphere moves back towards long days… when the sun reaches far into the evening.

Our Lady Rams of the Comments made a gift of posting this poem one Solstice, and I’m reposting it again today, because it’s just the loveliest thing. Read it over, light a candle, bring your loved ones close, and hold fast against the longest night.  Peace out, knitters.

And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.

Susan Cooper

71 thoughts on “The Longest Night

  1. This year we celebrate with our grandson, our first and only grandchild thus far, a child with a major heart defect, who has already lived through the two open heart surgeries, and lots of scary days along the way. Ten years ago on Christmas morning we lost my sister after a long illness. In so many ways, it all serves a good purpose of slowing the pace, keeping us all on even keel, enjoying the simple pleasures.

    • So sorry for the loss of your sister – and hoping and praying your grandson goes from strength to strength and makes excellent progress!

  2. Lovely.

    Isn’t it a shame that we don’t celebrate the revolving year more closely to the seasons? Tomorrow should be New Year’s Day…and, for those of us that are Christian, what better way to welcome in a new year than with the birth of the Christ child?

    Though, through years of conditioning, I still feel that the year begins in early September just after Labor Day (when school starts here)!

    Happy Holidays to all.

    • Yes, celebrating the year by the seasons makes so much sense to me. I always thought that the first day of school should be Mother’s Day, celebrated with parades and luncheons with wine, instead of the second Sunday in May but New Year’s Day would be appropriate too.

      • I’d like to move Christmas to another time of year, so that I could revel in the lights, the food, the conviviality, and all the pleasures of mid-winter now. I like the idea of New Year’s Day in September. I think all the moms celebrate the kids’ return to school in private, lest the kids know how happy they are! I know I tried to hide my relief, but I don’t know whether I was successful.

  3. Beautiful, Steph, thank you.

    I’ve been thinking about these things as well on this darkest day, and reflecting back on something I wrote a year ago. I had no idea then that it would be even more applicable this year, when I am struggling against much darkness in my personal life and in the world.

    I’ll share it here, or at least try to. It was originally published on the Live Fully Blog of the Oshman Family JCC (http://www.livefullyblog.org/family-life/the-return-of-the-light/)

    The Return of the Light
    DECEMBER 10, 2015

    First of all—let me get this out of the way—I’m not Jewish. That said, I do have a favorite Hanukkah song, Hanukkah Blessings by the Barenaked Ladies. It’s one that I play often this time of year as I’m decking my halls and baking my cookies.

    My favorite part goes like this:

    “How lucky are we that we
    have light so we can see
    although the day is done.
    What a miracle that a spark
    lifts these candles out of the dark.
    Every evening, one by one…”

    That’s where the miracle is, at least in part, for me—the ability of long-ago humans to create light where none naturally existed, and the hope that such a thing must have engendered in the dark season. What must it have been like, before humans had a true understanding of astronomy, to see the sun slip further and further away at this time of year, losing light bit by bit each day? What faith did it take to believe the sun would eventually return?

    Even in our artificially-lit modern world, we feel it in our bones: the harvest is over and we enter the long darkness shored up with only what we have reserved. For ancient peoples, that meant hoarding enough food to survive until the next fertile season; for us today it means preserving contact with each other through a time when our instinct is to bundle up, close ourselves off and hunker down inside until the light returns.

    In days when fuel was precious, burning oil or candles just for the sake of light was a luxury, yet most cultures developed celebrations of light to sustain themselves through the winter and reassure themselves that the sun would return. Though we call them by different names—Hanukkah, Saturnalia, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Solstice—what they carry in common is a calling together of community to spark hope, reinforce love and cultivate joy in the darkest of times.

    This year’s dark season feels deeper than most. When the news is filled with reports of terrorism, intolerance and mistrust, we need the light more than ever. We need the light of understanding, peace and kindness to sustain us through these times. We need faith that the sun will soon lengthen our days again and also that humankind will find and share a greater love for each other.

    As I view the lighting of the hanukiah tonight, I will appreciate once again this holiday that calls us together to perform the ritual of creating light in community with others. I will carry that remembrance home when I turn on the lights strung around my Christmas tree, grateful for the faces that I see there and the traditions that call us together and warm our hearts at this time of year. This is my personal talisman against dark times, dark thoughts and dark beliefs: faith in the goodness of humanity and our ability to repair and heal.

    I wish you peace in this and all seasons.

  4. Indeed, a little-bit yarn-less doesn’t seem so big. The knitted things will wait for their due time, and you seem pretty zen this year about the holidays – maybe that strategy of finishing up a week early should be factored into next year’s holiday spreadsheet. May Light pervade the rest of your holiday season.

  5. Happy Solstice, Steph. Hope all is well. Hope your yarn will arrive soon. Enjoy mulled wine and candles to usher in the turning of the season.

  6. Love the poem. Here’s to more light coming starting tomorrow! And hope lives always in our hearts, no matter what the world throws at us. There is always a way towards more light. Happy Solstice everyone!

  7. Solstice blessings to you and all you love, gratitude for friendship in a trying year, hope for the light to come, peace in all hearts, and compassion for all beings. Blessed Be!

  8. Happy Solstice, Steph. Texting with Erin is indeed a gift, as is your impending grandbaby. Those grandchildren get their hooks in you quickly and you become their slave. In the best way, of course.

  9. Thank you for this lovely moving poem. We will hold close together and rejoice that tomorrow is a longer day.

    P.S. Hope your yarn arrives pronto!

  10. Yes, tragedy or the threat thereof really does re-order one’s priorities. With a changed perspective we can say “How important is it in the grand scheme of things?” and let go of some concerns that in the past would have had us all worked up. ‘Tis rather freeing!

    May you and your loved ones celebrate many more years together.

  11. Enjoy your solstice gathering/celebration/party, and may Canada Post have the good sense to NOT wake you up before noon tomorrow!

  12. Longest Night / coldest night doesn’t really resonate with us Antipodeans, where we were promised a 29C day 🙂 But that’s a beautiful poem, thank you for sharing it with us. I send blessings to your precious family (I had to click the envelope 😀 ), and have a beautiful Solstice celebration. Love from Sydney.

  13. Our son was born on the solstice 27 years ago so it is always a special time. Our home, like so many others at this time of year, is lit up to dispel the darkness, and he remains a bright light for us. Happy solstice everyone.

  14. Glad Yule to you and yours as well.

    Hopefully your yarn shows up tomorrow, enjoy the celebrations tonight. I’m trying to finish three hats by Saturday morning…. when I see my own offspring for Christmas.

  15. Yes. This poem is one of my very favorites, and I’ve searched it out to read it aloud the past two Winter Solstices. Realizing that I likely first encountered it here reminds me, once again, how much I appreciate this blog, and the community you’ve created around it, Steph. Happy Solstice to all.

  16. Happy Solstice, and thank you for that lovely poem. Buy everyone a nice Amazon gift card and promise knitted gifts to come for New Year’s or Valentine’s Day or whatever works for you. Relax. Enjoy. You are entitled and it will be okay.

  17. I knew in advance (of course) that today was Solstice, but that didn’t even cross my mind when I was in a Pier One store last night (to buy a couple of owl-themed little gifts for my owl-loving mom) and felt myself compelled to buy a new peppermint candle in a tall, narrow glass printed with a Christmas tree made of peppermint candies. It *did* strike me that the candle looks like a pagan version of the Hispanic/Latino Christian votive candles you find in every grocery store in my area. Lit and perfuming the living room with its fresh bite, it feels even more like an offering of light on the darkest night.

    I do hope the much awaited box of yarn finds you tomorrow. I’m deep in the throes of my own sweatshop of love. A cowl and a half, 7/8 of a sock, half a dog sweater, and finishing an embroidery project to go. The half a cowl will be done before I sleep. The other cowl actually can wait until the rest are done (my darling cousin and I will pass like ships but not cross sea lanes on Christmas, so I have to mail it). I predict success, but it might be close. One sock is washed and blocked–Mom will forgive a finished but unblocked sock, right?

  18. Dear Steph,
    I thank you from the bottom of my heart for allowing me, and your faithful followers into you life and celebrations. I feel as though I have a family, albeit virtual reality.
    And since you mentioned Erin…
    I know you will soon be starting the “never-ending” baby blanket and layette. You reach a ginormous amount of knitters, maybe in between all of our personal knitting we can knit for others in need. I recently came across this site: knittedknockers dot ORG. Maybe you can give a shout-out for them. There but for the Grace of God, go I.
    Happy (day after) Soltice.
    Bridget

  19. I read that beautiful poem and then looked up: a Bewick’s wren was just outside the windows, announcing that there was no suet out yet and it was only starting to get above freezing with the sun. I chuckled and opened the door and set out a bite of breakfast for it, and felt like all was right with my world. Thank you for that.

  20. Thank you, as always (thank you, Rams) for sharing a gentle reminder of what matters most. Sending special wishes to Erin, Meg and her babe, and to you and yours – and the Blog – for peace, health and happiness through the holidays and the year to come.

  21. This poem is recited at the end of every Christmas Revels performance at Sanders Theater in Cambridge, MA (may even have been written for Revels back in the 1970s) and concludes with the entire audience shouting WELCOME YULE!

  22. Aw, you and Presbytera posted Susan Cooper’s poem from Christmas Revels. The Revels and this poem have been an important part of my and my friends’ holiday tradition for many years. A large group of us go and then have dinner together afterwards — being with friends is another important part of the holiday. 🙂

    P.S. Yes, according to this year’s Revels program, it was written for Revels in ’77.

  23. The poem made me weep..big fat tears. My husband was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s, he is 48 years old. Your thoughts about yesterday made me realize how much we have to be thankful for in these dark days of winter. Today is the 22nd and the day is already a tiny bit longer..

    Merry Christmas Stephanie and thank you

  24. Thank you for posting the Solstice poem. I must have missed it when it was posted in the past.

    Re: your missing yarn, Stephanie, have you contacted the shipper? The package could have been damaged or lost en route. (That always seems to happen to at least one of my packages during the holiday season.) If the address label is missing or torn, the post office may be unable to either deliver it or return it to sender. You are entitled to your money back or a replacement, whichever you prefer.

    Happy Holidays to you and yours!

  25. Thank you for quoting one of my favorite authors, Susan Cooper. Her series of books beginning with The Dark is Rising is one of my all-time favorites.

    Happy belated Solstice!

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