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.

We are away, Joe and I, travelling with Katie, Carlos and the boys, trying to cement a new tradition or two, ones to replace all that fell away with my Mum’s untimely departure. I still struggle when events roll by that she was so central to, and Joe is right to try and fill those days up in other ways, and mercy but there is nothing like a trip with a three and six year old to fill up a day. Today is the solstice, one of my favourite days of the year. This day marks the return of the light, and I’m so glad it’s here,  the day was so short – the sun never got high in the sky at all, it was a very grey day, and even for a Northern people, it was hard on the heart.

Then, just as the sun was setting (at 4pm, I swear it) the sun started to peek through, and it was so beautiful, I took a million pictures, and tried to take that in, and use it to carry me through the next days. They won’t be easy ones, I think, but they’ve got to be better than last year.

When I’m done sending this to you I’m going to make our annual Charitable donations. Now is that time I feel, in the deepest, darkest moments, to reach out and do something nice for the world around me. It makes me feel like I’m part of the light returning, like it’s a gesture of gratitude for all I’ve been given over the last year, and the Karma can’t hurt. This year our money is going to The Bike Rally (I am chair this year, so clearly I’m all in on that one, I think it’s really important.) and Because I am a Girl.

Here’s to the return of the light my dear ones, and hold onto your hats. Winter’s here.

81 thoughts on “Longest

  1. All blessings to you and yours, Stephanie. The light is coming back for me too, after a year of darkness. Paid it forward by making a donation to Because I Am A Girl.

  2. Beautiful. I wept. I am losing my mother, slowly, not in an untimely way. She is 94 and it is horrible for her. She is sometimes lucid, sometimes angry, trapped in a shell of a body she can do nothing with, nor control. I wept for your loss of your mother, the beauty of the poem and your, as always, soaring use of language. Happy Solstice and keep doing good.

    • Maggie, I am losing my mother, too, to pancreatic cancer. She is only 70; I’m not even 40. Hearing about Stephanie’s grief and yours helps me feel less alone in this terrible, too-slow process; thank you both for sharing and may the light find you.

      • Oh Karen, I’m so sorry. I also lost my mother to pancreatic cancer; she was 64 (I was 37). It was more than a decade ago, and she is never far from my thoughts – and alway deep in my heart. She was a knitter, and in our last weeks we knit together side by side. When she could no longer knit, I finished up two pairs of socks she had started – one for my husband, and one for her dear friend.

  3. We need that light to return. We need the smiles of children. We need hearts for giving, like yours. Thank you. Holidays can be so hard.

  4. All the best from the sunny side of the planet! Enjoy the beauties (and the lessons) of the season, whatever it may be. You may well look back on this and sigh nostalgically in several months when it’s ridiculously hot and the sweat is rolling off you in torrents.

    Here in New Zealand many people follow The Traditions of The Ancestors and have a roast dinner on Christmas Day, generally roasting ourselves in the process – it can be over 30C, with all the family packed round the table like sunburned sardines. Humans: not all that logical.

  5. As the days lengthen, I wish you peace, healing, and joy. May the year to come be full of love and family, and bring you heart’s ease.

  6. So beautiful. I have tried so hard to have even one of our children read The Dark is Rising to no avail. Enjoy your Littles immensely! ✨

  7. Happy Solstice, Stephanie. There is nothing like Susan Cooper for placing a finger on the heart of the season. May the light that returns to the coming days fill your heart as well. We were meant to walk in the sun.

  8. With the stream of news this week and the absolutely disheartening state of things, I kept saying to myself, “it can literally only get brighter from here on out.”

  9. Wishing you all the best for the coming year. My father passed away a couple of years ago and there are still moments when I think I would like to tell him something… New traditions with the young ‘uns is a great idea!

  10. Thank you for the poem. Enjoy your family! When I lived in Montana, I swear the shortest day was barely (if even) 8 hours. Very trying. We get down to 8 hours and 45 minutes here along the St Lawrence River. Rain today !!! I am celebrating (or distracting myself) with my first effort at making a no-knead seed bread. Just added the second round of ingredients and set it aside for its second 12 rising period. And, knitting, of course.

  11. Here’s a happy story. We have a little local charity that sends out a questionnaire thru social services and gets sizes and wants needs likes and dislikes for kids who might otherwise not get a Christmas. They list all these things on “kid tags” and hang them on a tree in their shop. People come and get the tags and buy stuff for the kids and the charity wraps them and delivers them.
    My sister’s friend runs the charity and my sister stopped by to pick up a couple tags. Her friend mentioned they had 15 tags left and my sister said “I’ll see what I can do.” So she got on the phone and called a couple other sisters, who took a couple of kids, then one of those sister’s neighbors took a couple of kids, and mentioned it at work and they gathered up money and sent it to my sister to take more kids. My sister mentioned it on her Facebook page and her ex-husband’s ex girlfriend (seriously) sent money to take more kids.

    In the end, her “see what I can do” took all the kids plus 2 who were added after a fire at the last minute, and had enough left over she bought gift cards for the grocery store for all the families. In 2 days my little sister raised enough money to make Christmas for 17 kids.
    She called this morning crying she was so happy… .

  12. My husband’s birthday is tomorrow and he is beginning to appreciate the fact that the light is returning…on his natal day. It makes all the rain, dark and drear bearable. It is also the first day of winter. I can’t say I am pleased….but I did make my seed order for spring planting today! That REALLY helped.

  13. Here in the Seattle area we call it “late afternoon clearing” when the sun drops below the cloud deck after a gray day, and you get some color for a few minutes.

    Rhythms of the day, the year, show us things about the rhythms of life..

  14. My son was in middle school when he brought home The Dark is Rising and told me that I had to read it. I read the series every year about this time. Susan Cooper sure has a way with words. You do too. You are so eloquent, your words fill my heart. Grief’s darkness moved in last Sunday and shows no signs of leaving. Widowhood sucks. I’ve tried sweating it out at the gym (a new activity for me) but I’m confident that I’ll chase it away spending time with my children, grandchildren, and friends this week. Following your example I will find a local charity that needs what I can give.

  15. Dear Stephanie
    While you are celebrating the Shortest Day, it is the Longest Day here in New Zealand. For Christmas Day think BBQ roast pork, the lovely smell of cooking wafting around outside, followed by fresh strawberries, icecream, chocolate cheesecake and fresh fruit salad.
    May you have a wonderful Christmas surrounded by your loving family.

  16. What a gorgeous photo – wishing you strength in the coming days and a peaceful holiday season to you and yours – new traditions are always good. Thank you for all you contribute to bringing the light back into all your readers’ worlds.

  17. “Because I Am a Girl” does not operate here in Panama, where I live, sadly. But I thought you might like to know that my little charity, The Boquete Knitters and Quilters, is not only providing baby things through various local clinics to wrap our poorest and tiniest neighbors in warmth, beauty and love, but we are also providing for one of our own. We have an indigenous lady, single mother of 5 whose husband abandoned her, who comes and knits for the poor with us. And her darling 10-year-old daughter knits with us, too. We provide the family with non-perishable food monthly and also help with school uniforms and supplies for the younger 3 boys and the little girl. The oldest boy is working his way through university to become an English teacher.

  18. Unexpected timing. I just finished reading “The Dark is Rising” by Susan Cooper. It’s the first book of a series that I read many times as a kid, but I think this is the first time I’ve really appreciated that the events happen over the Christmas holidays (from Solstice to Twelfth Night), and all that means. Before, that was simply backdrop.

    I hope your holidays continue to be wonderful and full of joy, music, laughter, and light. 🙂

  19. Feeling the same here as we lost our Mom just three weeks ago. Trying to start creating a new normal. Blessings to you and your family this season.

  20. Beautiful picture, Steph. It’s a good idea to make new traditions. I hope they stand you in good stead. Happy Solstice for yesterday, and may the light return for you xxx

  21. Thanks for posting this…I love this poem and had meant to look it up. I’ve read it to our friends on solstices past, but this year we aren’t having a gathering.

    I also feel the relief of the turning point of the sun. To me a much more significant and joyful day than xmas.

  22. I have missed your musings…Blessings to you and yours for the love you show to all.
    I understand your loss and loss of familial structure.
    It is not easy to design that new life, filled with sadness and missteps….however, one day we will find that joy again.
    2012-14 was my never ending grief: 5 people in 2 years., starting with DH, ending with my BFF. Now my mother has Alzheimer’s…
    Yet every day there is light and hope to be found.
    I search and find a piece of it every day.

  23. Thanks for that lovely poem!
    It has been a bitch of a year for so many.
    I am a mom and a grandmom and this year I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It has been a long road but treatment is at an end and I am looking forward to longer days. With any luck at all I’ll have many yet to come.
    Here’s to brighter days ahead!

  24. I lost my mom in September, and so am struggling through this season of “firsts” with the hope that the second will be a little less harsh. Thank you for the hope and love. Happy Christmas to you and yours.

  25. Winter is here, but the beauty of the Solstice is that it is the promise of spring coming. This has been the darkest, shortest time, but it is only a passing moment.

    I am so excited to hear about your new traditions, those things that will become central to the lives of your littles and so the cup which was emptied will be refilled and emptied again. Like the cycle of the years.

  26. Sending love and light to you and your loved ones. New traditions are hard but beautiful…it is not forgetting the old ones or those who were a part of it. Your mom will always be a part of you.

  27. Thank you Stephanie, my Mom died suddenly 2 weeks and 4 days ago. I am frozen inside…but the solstice means that the sun will return. I am so tired of dark days. Have a Merry Christmas, make some new traditions and tweak some old ones. I am trying to just.make.it.through

  28. Bright Blessings to you and yours. Thank you for allowing us to share your life and family from afar. Thank you for being a kind soul in a troubled world. May your love rub off on all of us. May the coming year bring you all Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Knit on into the darkness. The light is coming back. HUGS

  29. Blessings to you, Stephanie. May the days become brighter and easier and may the light return to all of the corners that have been darkened for you in the loss of your mum. ❤️

  30. I have to believe you’re paying it forward in spending time with the little ones who will be here long after we are gone. So many of us seem to lose family during the holiday season and I wonder sometimes if that too is the natural cycle of things. Love and hugs to you and your family!

  31. The natural landscape of the day is coming to an end, the farmer comes home after a day of working in the field, every herd of buffaloes and cows follow the nomad’s back to the barn, walking slowly, every child has a belly. full stretch. In the distance, echoes of birds pulling toward the nest before it gets dark. Around the house the chickens ton go looking for a place to sleep, the sound of hens, chirping chicks … all lim dim birds fall asleep at any time or not

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