This time of year, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, is home to many celebrations, nearly all of them involving people gathering together, feasting, and filling their homes with light and warmth. This past Monday was the longest night and the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, and in spite of everything (or perhaps even more fiercely because of it), people have been doing their best to bring light to the darkness.
One of the many traditions around the longest night hinges around the fact that after that late December eve, the sun starts to set just a little bit later every day. The sun’s return is not something we can appreciate right away; in fact it’s going to be dark in the Northeast for quite a while yet. But making a point of marking the time when the change starts, however small, is a good way to notice, and continue noticing, the little ways that things get a little better over time.
The night that the country learned that the 2020 presidential election had been called for Joe Biden, I was out at a birthday dinner, seated outdoors with a heat lamp and masks, and watching as fireworks went off in my town, fireworks that felt at once like they were for the whole world, and for me alone. I felt what I distantly recognized as joy begin to unspool in my chest.
Since that night, I’ve allowed myself to cautiously hope. I’ve said that the feeling is as though someone has pushed open a door that has been stuck shut for years, moved it just a crack, and then slipped a candle through into the darkness.
The other night, the longest night, I lit a candle at sunset, keeping it burning through the long dark.
In a year like this—and when has there been a year like this!—it can feel almost impossible to hold out hope. Despair can close in on us, the weight of all the horrors both individual and collective threatening to shut us down as tightly as business districts in March. It can feel naive or selfish to celebrate the return of the light, when the realities that light shines on are still so very, very dark.
Yet that is what we do. We light candles, fires, trees. We light our faces with the glow of our laptop screens, Zooming our holiday wishes across space. We do, in essence, all that we can. And hopefully, we hold on.
To everyone: I wish you the strength to hold on in this dark season, the light to see the truth by, at least one hand to hold and fellowship to share. We all need it, terribly.
Ring the bells that still can ring-Leonard Cohen
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in