The Longest Night

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

With profound thanks to Rams, our Lady of the Comments, who always knows the right poem for everything.

treecandle.  2014-12-21

I love this night. The longest one there will be all year, and the shortest day to go with it.  Tomorrow the sun will shine a little longer, the night – just a few seconds less.  We celebrate tonight, as we always do, with friends, and food and good wine, and mostly with candles, and light. Twinkle lights hang everywhere, the tree is sparkling against the afternoon dark,  ice lanterns will line the steps to greet our guests, fresh candles top every flat surface.  Dinner’s on the stove, and I’ve just finished the peppermint bark, which is good – because I think I have a friend or two who only come for the wee package of it they’ll find in their pockets on the way home.

treeknit 2014-12-21

The friends who come tonight are women and mothers,  knitters too, in fact, and I feel like today I open my home to people who are the cradle of their homes. People who make things. Sweaters, dinners, presents… people… they’re powerful, wonderful women. (They’re a little twitchy this time of year, but that’s nothing that candlelight, a little knitting time and a glass of wine can’t fix.)  We’ll celebrate our unbelievable good fortune tonight, that we’re warm, that we’re full, that our children are whole and safe, that the light is all around us, and that there will be more of it tomorrow.

So many people can’t say the same this evening, and I’m going to skip gifts for knitters today, and suggest that this day, we think of a gift for someone with less.  I don’t know how much you have, and maybe all you can give is a few dollars, or even a little time – you’ll know best what speaks to your heart, and what you can manage.  We give to charity this day, it brings a little more light into the world, even while it is the longest night. Who we give to varies, according to what we’re grateful for, and what we wish other people had.  This year, it’s MSF – because we’re so grateful to have outstanding, affordable health care, and because we’re so impressed with the incredible work and risk that the MSF teams have undertaken on the front lines of the Ebola outbreak.  We’re giving to Because I am a Girl, because we have three educated, healthy daughters.  We’re giving to PWA because they do so very much good, and what the hell. I’m riding again. We’re giving to World Birth Aid, because on that map of maternal morbidity – I live in a country that is coloured blue.  There’s no safer place to give birth, and a clean birth kit can change that for another woman, so another family can have their mum with them, like I have mine, and my family has me.

candles 2014-12-21

Happy Happy Solstice, dear ones.  Light a candle. Namaste. Peace.


(PS. Luis hung up the reindeer.  He has no sense of decorum.)

rudolf 2014-12-21


98 thoughts on “The Longest Night

  1. And a merry Solstice Yule to y’all as well. For the shortest day this year, it was cloudy and drizzly here in the “Sunshine State” of Florida.

  2. I can just feel the warmth, light and love radiating from this post – from your home and your heart. This is lovely, and I wish you a wonderful evening. The idea of donations if great; we do it too in honour of Christmas. Wishing you and yours another wonderful happy, merry, safe and delightful Christmas season.

  3. Like the poem and the photos!
    I tell you, your blog is reaping in the gifts…for me! And my knitting friends, all of whom are getting at least a stitch marker cell plug!
    Thanks for links! As well as suggestions that will keep me going next year now that I have a 2 yo granddaughter (adopted) with another baby on the way!
    Such fun with little ones.

  4. All.of.that. Here’s to the beginning of the light – my friends’ daughter’s birthday is tomorrow, and I always think it’s a lovely birthday, the first day the light starts coming back. Here’s to all of you this festive season, thank you for another year of wonderful online chat xxx

  5. Bless you and yours. Thank you for all you give to us. I for one, am so grateful to you and for your words. You say it so much better than I ever could. Peace.

  6. I knew the poem had a familiar voice..Susan Cooper, author of the utterly wonderful Dark is Rising Series, and compulsory Christmas reading here. If you’ve not read it, you must…book two is set around the winter solstice. Maybe something to listen to while you do that last minute panic knitting!

    • That series is one of my favorites, ever since my son read The Dark is Rising about 20 years ago or so. At times I have tried to gift the books to a young friend but find the bag always disappears when it’s time to go. Seems I’m keeping it. I read it every year.

        • Although I love Susan Cooper’s books, my Christmas reading is either Pickwick Papers or Wind in the Willows. Sometimes, in an organized year it’s both. This year it will be neither.

          • The Dark is Rising is one of my favorites as well. When I saw Susan Cooper’s poem, I thought to myself that this would be a good year to re-read these books.

    • Susan Cooper–The Dark Is Rising– A favorite since I was about 12.
      Thank you for sharing (words, pictures, “wealth”, ideas, love).

  7. Pingback: The Longest Night | Yarn Buyer

  8. Happy Solstice. I’ve celebrated it all my life, not because it’s the Solstice but because it’s my birthday. I was born in Buffalo, N.Y. so we probably don’t need a weather report. My ancestors came from Ireland and Norway do this does bring out my atavistic instincts. Happy Solstice, God Jul and have a wonderful whatever else we all celebrate.

    • It’s my birthday, too. I often get asked if I hate having a birthday so close to Christmas, but I wouldn’t change it. I love this day and what it represents.

  9. Thank you for such a heartwarming post. We too will light special candles this night. We give to Habitat for Humanity, our local food bank and Salvation Army. My husband puts out extra bird dough as a Solstice treat for the birds who give us so much pleasure all year. May you and your dear ones enjoy each other all through this lovely season.

  10. Food for the Poor and Unbound (Christian Foundation for Children and Aging) along with the local homeless shelter – because we have a warm home full of food.

    Also a big fan of Susan Cooper!

  11. What a lovely post and a lovely sentiment. We have <$200 to our name this Christmas so we are unable to give like I would wish to but you have reminded me to be grateful for the things I have. That I have a roof over my head and food on the table. Thank you. 🙂

    • I didn’t make the link until I saw your comment! I love that series too, and the titular book is currently seasonally appropriate!

  12. Happy Solstice to you as well, dear Steph. Thank you for this beautiful post, your friendship, and the light you and your family bring into the world. Because you do, each one of you. Namaste.

  13. A happy and peacful solstice to you too! We had a little solstice party last night, with board games and gluten-free candy cane cookies.

  14. We sponsor a girl who lives in the Dominican Republic in a town affected by HIV. Our donations ensure that she can attend school, get healthcare, and that her family has some help in achieving self-sufficiency.

  15. Rams’ choice of poem, your photos, and your sentiments are all so beautiful. Thank you for a moment of peace, beauty, thoughtfulness, and inspiration. Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. Namaste.

  16. Sending love to you and your circle. In a small way, your blog embraces us all and welcomes us into the circle too. <3

  17. Thanks for the poetry, the candlelight, the gifting, and all the inspiration all year long! Happy Solstice! and Happy New Year!!

  18. Lovely choice for a poem, Steph! It’s also nice to take a break from gift ideas to think about giving to those who need it most–I gave to the Project for Awesome this year, and that felt better than any other gift I purchased.
    But I have one small disappointment: What’s the Spanish word for reindeer?
    Wishing you a joyous evening & general holiday season!

  19. What a beautiful post – it did my heart good! Happy Solstice to you and yours and a good Christmas, Hanukkah and Happy New Year.

  20. All I can say to this post is WOW. I read a number of blogs but I have to say this post is the very bestest thing I have read all year. Thank you so much.

  21. Happy Solstice, Stephanie! We do have a lot to be thankful for. I’ll join your merry group of Mums and knitters from here and knit a few rows myself with a glass of wine!

  22. It’s hard for me to donate money so I knit hats and mittens for the elementary school my kids went to years ago so they all have warm winters. If only one child has a better year because someone made them something new I feel my year’s a success.

    Happy Solstice! Candles are lit, supper is cooking, knitting to follow. I have Old MacDonald’s cow to finish by Christmas morning. Moo, moo.

  23. I thank you for your amazing writing all year long. It’s funny, we have only met a couple times and yet you feel like an important part of my life. I cherish the wonderful pictures of little Luis and the rest of your family. My family is scattered hither and yon and I miss the little ones.
    Thank you Stephanie!

  24. This year, I have been making donations to a group that is seeking a cure for EB. Epidermolysis bullosa (EB) is an inherited connective tissue disease causing blisters in the skin and mucosal membranes and that means that just a kiss on a child’s cheek or a hug – or even just wearing an extra soft shirt or sweater will cause their skin to split and peel. It is very painful. I wish you a Happy Solstice and may the lights bring you peace and calm.

  25. Thanks for making me aware of World Birth Aid.
    A safe, clean birth should be a human right, and the reminder to think of how blessed we all are, and how little we truly NEED, is a good one at this time of year.

  26. Thank you for reminding us to be grateful for all we have, and for us, a little extra to send on to the wonderful people at MSF.
    Now, when the tree is down and the holiday is over, could the Lady of the Mittens give a little tutorial on knitting those doggoned thumbs? Just ruined what would have been a very pretty pair of Noro Silk Garden mitts by totally messing up the thumbs. Again.
    And a happy Solstice to you.

  27. Peace to all in these turbulent times for race relations in the US, and thank you Steph, for reminding us what the Season is truly about. Namaste.

  28. Happy Solstice, and thank you for your blog and mentioning the charities you give to–there’s a lot of overlap for us, but I haven’t heard of the safe birth one, and as a woman with very high risk pregnancies but two healthy children, I’d like to help another mum.. May you and yours have a lovely year (especially that adorable Luis).

  29. Pingback: Happy Solstice | Liam Grey

  30. I am grateful to many things this year, especially to the knitting community for their sense of dedication, wonder, and spirit. To celebrate my birthday (yesterday) I bought some local wool that was mill spun into two skeins of yarn to make an incredible pair of socks. With the money I had left over from the farmer’s market, I gave it to the family who didn’t have enough money to feed their two children. Should none of us ever have to hold up a sign to beg for food to feed us each night.

  31. Knitting for Christmas is so last year … we need to knit for Yule! We’d be so much more relaxed than everyone else.
    Love the give what you can portion … I love donating to my local food pantry so they can purchase things that aren’t donated.
    Keep the light glowing.

  32. Thank you. I don’t know why, but I am struggling to find the Christmas spirit this year. Probably a serious lack of sleep, but your post helped. Again, thank you.

  33. I love the solstice, too. And this may be one of my favorites of your entries. Thank you for the light you bring into your readers’/friends’ lives. May you and yours have a beautiful holiday season.

  34. Giving makes the holiday season more special and spreads the joy. I like your tradition of donating on the longest day of the year.

  35. yes to world birth aid – thank you for the nudge.
    happy solstice, happy life, happy knitting, happy warmth and light against the darkness. I appreciate you always for making me feel that there’s a whole lot of wonderful to be found in goodness. crazy but we need your reminder often!

  36. how timely – I had just finished a donation to this organization and then read your post 🙂

    I’m enjoying all the christmas posts and love seeing what Luis hangs up each day!

  37. I know that there are not a lot of ornaments left to choose from, but that reindeer looks an awful lot like the cookies he was decorating last night.

  38. I started reading the blog and books for the knitting and stayed for the heart.

    This was the perfect thing to read during my 5 minute break from panicking about there simply not being enough time between now and Thursday to get everything done while mentally cursing rabbits as I struggle with my first pair of baby booties in angora.

    Thank you. Blessings to you, yarnharlot, and the faithful harlots who read and knit along!

  39. My husband and I gave a combined 17 hrs to our local food pantry this week…… Because folks need to eat. Then I came home and knit a bunch. Life is good.

  40. This lovely post made me tear up. Thank you.

    My new husband and I are celebrating our first solstice as a married couple by lighting all the leftover candles from our wedding and making new candles to light on next year’s solstice. It’s a tradition we hope to continue for many years.

  41. Our Solstice tradition is a movie, a hot beverage, and pizza. This year, I took the eldest out while the youngest stayed home with Husband. She bought popcorn and drinks to share during the movie and it was nice to see her being generous to dear ol’ Mom. Afterward, we stopped at Panera for drinks and I gave her a dollar to put in the kharis box for second harvest. She later told me that she was broke because she’d put her last three dollars in the same charity box, I hadn’t seen her do it, nor asked her to, nor suggested that she do so, nor even given her a look. She just did it on her own. I have never been more proud to be her mom.

  42. I thought you might be interested to know that the shortest night has neither the earliest sunset (which is December 7th) or the latest sunrise (early January). Fascinating!

    • Hi Sarah – I wonder if it varies as our earliest sunset every year (I keep track) is at St. Lucy’s day – also known as St. Lucia’s day – which is December 13. But our sunrises continue to be later until about early January. In any event, the total amount of light is now increasing. Hurrah!

      • Yes! That is fascinating. We live not on a perfect sphere nor in a perfect orbit. To look up a chart of sunrise and sunset Times for you location is an enlightening treat.

  43. Thank you so much for sharing your Christmas time with me. Your posts have brought joy during what has personally been a difficult time. I am deeply touched by your post today, giving is the best part of the Christmas season. Thank you for reminding me of this simple thing.

  44. As another mother from a “blue” country at the other end of the world – I so enjoy your posts – Imagining what it is like to have a white Christmas – not to be sitting around under the fan, hoping that it won’t be so swelteringly hot on Christmas day that the family will refuse to even try on the beanies that I am knitting for them!

  45. Your thoughtful post brought tears to my eyes. One year ago almost to the day, I gave birth naturally to my first child in a warm, safe, and loving environment, supported by a trained nurse midwife and an experienced doula. Every woman deserves to give birth safely, and every newborn deserves those precious first moments (and beyond) with its mother. Not only will I be donating to World Birth Aid, your post inspired me to seek out additional organizations that support safe and culturally respected birth practices for women – through no fault of their own – who were born into far less fortunate circumstances than we.

  46. I sent a donation to Doctors Without Borders. I support them always but this post sent me with more. My knitters came Saturday to my house , we drank mimosas and had pot luck.. it was the same lovely warmth and women.

  47. Thank you Stephanie for the wonderful December postings. Much enjoyed everyone with my cup of coffee. We too will donate to MSF to help those who need it most. Thanks for the reminder.

  48. Stephanie:

    Thank you for sharing, and the nudges, and for all that you do. Wishing peace to you and yours – and the blog – this season and for the year(s) ahead. Namaste; amen.

  49. I moved to Toronto this year and have not actually been that affected much by the shorter days. They seem so much longer than Edmonton! Nonetheless, a good reason to celebrate and celebrate we did. See you at Madrona.

  50. Thank you for this. Thank you for all of the inspiration you dispel so regularly, I hope to meet you someday. But thank you, in particular, for this.

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