Peak darkness at the Winter Solstice


For us in the northern hemisphere, since the Summer Solstice in June, the Sun has been on a waning trajectory, resulting in days gradually getting shorter and nights longer. Today, on the Winter Solstice, our journey through the darkness reaches its peak, the sun at its lowest point before beginning its new ascent towards peak light. Peak darkness is the time when we begin to ask “How much longer are these dark days going to last?” and even wonder if the darkness will continue forever. Of course, we know in our heads that the light will return, but our hearts have, by now, grown weary and doubtful. With the devastating news on Saturday of further lockdowns, cancelled Christmas plans and a troubling new virus variant causing havoc, I spent yesterday with the heavy sense of a deep and interminable darkness.

At the Winter Solstice, my blog would normally focus on celebrating the return of the light after the longest night. However, this year, as we grapple with a new wave of the Covid19 pandemic and all the restrictions, worry, hardship, distress and loss that come with it, I get a sense that we may need to dig deeper within ourselves to find the sparkle and magic of the festive season and “celebration” may not be the most appropriate word given the circumstances. Or is that just me feeling sorry for myself? Certainly, on a personal level, the prospect of not being with our children as planned this Christmas has taken the wind out of my sails and at the end of an incredibly challenging year, the darkness does not seem ready to recede yet! I know I am not alone in this situation as thousands of us will now not be able to be with family and friends this Christmastime. It has come as a terrible blow after many months of social distancing and lack of physical and social contact with the people we love. Whilst I understand the seriousness of the Covid19 crisis and it is right we all do our bit to protect each other, I also fear the consequences on our mental and emotional health and wellbeing of the pandemic and its associated distress, trauma and loss will be severe and long-lasting.

Forgive me for painting a grim picture so far and please bear with me as I explain my reasoning. It is no use denying how bleak and challenging the situation is or ignoring the anger, hurt, disappointment, sadness and fear we feel. These feelings are totally appropriate, a normal grief response to what is happening right now and they need to be felt. My upset, when I have shared it, has been met with a few well meaning but rather dismissive and unempathic reactions like “be grateful you have a fridge full of food, some people have nothing” or “your children will still be there after Christmas” or “how about offering your food out?” I do not see any value in replacing a negative by a positive just for the sake of it. That’s just covering it up; the negativity remains underneath, unchanged and potentially harmful when buried below our awareness because it makes us uncomfortable. Only by acknowledging and owning our feelings of grief can we move to a place of acceptance, hope and even joy; only by knowing the darkness can we see the light.

And here is the thing: the Winter Solstice is a pivot point when the darkness stops rising and the light of the Sun, at the beginning of its new cycle, returns to us once more, slowly but surely increasing in length. A powerful reminder that the darkest hour is just before dawn, the Winter Solstice gifts us with the hope, faith and determination we need to help us navigate our way through the dark times. From tomorrow, the tide turns and a new beginning emerges. What joy! And what relief!

We're not out of the woods - or the darkness - yet and at this point in the cycle, the Sun does not yet have the strength to sustain growth. Out in nature, the time between now and Imbolc at the beginning of February is the heart of Winter when the natural world hunkers down for a period of hibernation, stillness and rest. May this be an invitation for us to do the same, especially as the Covid19 crisis intensifies with a faster spreading virus strain and we face further restrictions and lockdowns. May we use this time to slow down, reflect and listen, to be quiet and still to align ourselves with the energy of the season that brings a new direction and new possibilities. This ultimately helps us connect with ourselves and meet our deepest wisdom so we may emerge, in Spring, renewed and bursting with ideas and the energy to bring them to fruition. I have decorated the house with candles and fairy lights and these little displays of Solstice joy and peace have gone a long way to soothe my unsettled heart and nourish my soul at this difficult time.

Happy Winter Solstice, friends! May you find the light, your inner light, that guides you in the darkness. May it give you the strength to know your darkness and the hope for a better tomorrow. I'll end with these words by Victor Hugo: “Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.”