Musings from the Longest Night: Appreciating the Dark Half of the Year

Near the Summer Solstice, a wise friend of mine commented that perhaps we focus too much on light and the Sun. It really planted a seed in my mind and I believe that he was so right. Last night, the Longest Night, that seed sprouted with multiple thoughts on the dark that I’d like to share.

Almost every Pagan holiday, save for Imbolc, celebrate the Sun and its ability to bring us heat, nourishment and wisdom. We celebrate the Spring Equinox because the days are now longer than the nights.* We celebrate Beltaine for the flowers brought to us by the heat of the Sun. We celebrate the Summer Solstice to celebrate the Sun and the longest day. We celebrate Lughnasadh for the first harvest brought to us by the Sun. We celebrate the Autumn Equinox for the harvest and worry about surviving the coming Winter. We celebrate Saimhain as the final harvest in preparation for Winter. Then, we celebrate the Winter Solstice, not as a celebration of Winter, but as a return of the Sun.

Now, I completely understand that every Pagan holiday focuses on fertility. Without it, we wouldn’t have survived as a species. At the same time, I think that we lose something by only focusing on the light and what it brings. The dark is equally as important.

The dark half of the year brings us so much and that should be celebrated with as much fervor as the celebration of the light half of the year.

The dark brings cold.

Most people who know me know that I love the cold. And, every time someone comments that they hate the cold, I usually respond with something like, “the colder it is, the fewer ticks.” It’s true. The colder the Winter, the fewer bugs in the Spring and Summer. And, yes, I know that bugs have their purpose, but too many can harm the harvest.

Some plants cannot even sprout until they’ve frozen. The cold allows these plants to germinate.

While I haven’t quilted much in a while, Winter is the best time to quilt. There’s nothing like having a queen sized quilt sitting on my lap keeping me warm while I quilt. Quilting in Summer is unbearable. Piece in Summer, quilt in Winter.

The dark brings us together.

With the cold, cuddling returns. When it’s hot, my cat and my husband sit far from me. (I put off a lot of heat.) When it’s cold, we’re a sandwich with me in the middle. We have less of a reason to be outside, so more boardgames! Friends are often more available for gatherings because they’re not on vacation or playing outside.

The dark brings rest.

This aspect is hugely overlooked. Recent studies have been released hammering home the need for sleep. Our brains need rest to allow them to properly store memories and prepare for what’s ahead. Our bodies need rest to heal.

More than that, Gaia needs rest. Her plants need to die back and nourish Her soil. We’ve been forcing this cycle for too long and that has hurt Her. Think about puppy mills … humans continually force a female to go into heat over and over to create more puppies. The female’s body never has a chance to fully recover and it damages her body. Gaia is no different.

The dark brings reflection.

Just as our brains reflect on the day and store our memories when we sleep, the dark allows us the opportunity to sit back and reflect on what went well and what went wrong. I think it’s no coincidence that the American Thanksgiving is in the dark half of the year. I know that it has become a gluttonous holiday, but we have a holiday dedicated to reflecting on what we’re thankful for.

The dark allows us to slow down and ask, “is my life going as I want? Do I have what I need? What needs to go?” That last one has been really getting to me lately. I know that clearing your home of unnecessary things is thought of as a Spring activity, but I’ve really been noticing things that need to go. I looked at my medications the other day and realized that I have some seriously expired vitamins and medications. I don’t want to be that person who leaves behind a home full of useless stuff. “Look at this prescription from 1985!”

The dark brings inspiration.

New Year’s resolutions naturally happen this time of year and I don’t think that it’s truly based on the new year. Frankly, the year could begin in July and the resolutions would still happen this time of year. Why? It’s a natural progression from the reflection above. Our primitive ancestors were planning at this time of year … when should we plant? How much should we plant? When will we start building the new barn? Is there a better way to irrigate the crops? To plan this time of year is ingrained in our psyche.

By embracing darkness, we benefit. We need to recognize that the dark half of the year is an opportunity to ground, to prepare and to appreciate what we have. The slow speed of the season can allow us to reflect, rest and enjoy the company of our loved ones.

From here on, I will celebrate the return of the darkness at the Summer Solstice and I will honor the dark parts of the day and of the year.

*This will be a very rudimentary discussion of the holidays.

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