Darkest before Dawn ~ waiting for Sun Return

Darkest before Dawn ~ waiting for Sun Return


In the middle of all the excitement and glitz of the approach of Christmas, I’ve noticed something. My own mood has plummeted to below the bedrock and every task seems to take ten times the effort. I’m tired and feeling generally unwell most of the time and the entreaties of others to feel the Christmas spirit is failing.

Even writing this is a huge effort. I question whether it’s worth making an effort at all to write posts any more, at this time of year. Is it worth bothering to do anything much? It took me till mid morning to have a shower and get dressed. I’ve no work on at the moment, and even if I did have, it’s as likely as not that it’d be a massive expenditure of energy to get to it each day.

I made myself walk into town, which is about two and a half miles away, and I began thinking about it as my legs swung along, and I came to a shocking thought.

Winter. It’s always been this way.

Our ancestors even a hundred years ago dreaded winter, because a poor harvest and a long winter meant that making it through was a huge achievement. The Christmases we see in art from Victorian times were usually those of the well-to-do. The poor often shivered, starved and sometimes froze to death during winter.

Go further back, to pre-industrial days, and the picture gets grimmer. The old and the very young would often not make it through a winter, and food had to be carefully rationed to try and ensure it lasted till the spring.

Further back still to our stone age ancestors and you can see that instead of being a cosy time of candles and roaring log fires, it surely must have felt endless. Monotonous food, often poorly preserved, leaky homes, sickness, freezing conditions with blizzards than might last for days made winter a time to dread.

Those memories are stored in the collective unconscious of all peoples whose ancestry is rooted in the chill of the north, and those who are sensitive to them feel them seeping through into our conscious minds as anxiety and fear and dread. In Britain and Europe, the news is packed with reports of financial institutions and governments on the brink of bankruptcy (“The grain store is overrun with rats, the apples have rotted- we’re going to starve!” whisper the ancient voices). The news is not good about the environment either (“The mammoth are gone, what will we hunt now?” say the ancient voices). The weathermen give us warnings of bad weather and high winds (“I smell snow on the wind; it will be a bad winter,” comes the voice of a lost elder)

And instead of huddling in front of our fires and telling stories, we stare at our TV screens and computers and we are alone with our fears.

I feel like I am on an inexorable downward slide and I am. So are many. I’m hoping that many of you reading are nodding and thinking, yes, that’s me. Not because I want anyone to be unhappy but because, you know, it makes me feel a tiny bit better to think I’m not alone in this.

Behind me stand the shadows of my ancestors, whispering in my genes and in my inner ear and telling me things I cannot quite hear. They’re telling me I’m going to go down still further yet.

And then it will stop.

My ancestors, the more distant ones anyway, waited at this time of year, for the midpoint, the point at which the sun will not get any lower or the days any shorter. The point at which the land stands poised and silent and waiting. And then and only then will the slow climb towards the lighter days begin again. The Solstice is not just a calender point, but is a vital, psychological and spiritual moment where we know we have reached halfway. Yes, there will be fouler weather and colder frosts and heavier snows still to come but we have reached halfway. Yes, it will be months before we feel warm again, and before we see flowers bloom once more.

But we have made it to as dark as it will ever get and from now on, little by little, the light is coming back, two minutes or so more every single day.

The Christmas Carol The Holly and The Ivy probably is as ancient a winter song as there can be, for all the Christian verses, at its core are two things that take us back to what the Solstice is: “Oh the rising of the sun and the running of the deer.” The sun comes back and the deer (to hunt, presumably) are there too. We can celebrate because of these things. We can come together and tell stories. Whether we do so in physical gatherings or via social media is not important. But what is important is that you are not alone. Our common humanity means that we have a better chance of finding understanding for what we have to share.

So, as I wait for SunReturn, I shall seek to make more light, tell more stories, bind the people of my tribe a little closer and watch the sky.

20 thoughts on “Darkest before Dawn ~ waiting for Sun Return

  1. I empathise. I get very blue in winter. Its because you are not getting sunlight into your brain. Im thinking of you here in warm Australia. I like your writing. Keep it up. Many read-not many leave comments.


  2. Brilliant post that sums up this time of year perfectly. Solstice comes from the Latin meaning ‘to stand still’ (since the sun appears to rise from the same point over several days) but I think that, psychologically, we also stand still at this point of the year, as if waiting to pass through the gate of the solstice. Our ancestors would have found this time of year very hard and they must have wondered if they and their families were going to survive the trials of winter. I am sure the solstice ceremonies provided a focus for their thoughts and prayers and perhaps instilled a little hope that they could carry with them through the dark and cold months yet to come. That’s how I feel about the solstice. It is a reminder of the light in the world and the warmth in our heart.


    • i want to say something
      i want to let other people do it

      A Ballade of Suicide
      G.K. Chesterton

      The gallows in my garden, people say,
      Is new and neat and adequately tall;
      I tie the noose on in a knowing way
      As one that knots his necktie for a ball;
      But just as all the neighbours on the wall
      Are drawing a long breath to shout “Hurray!”
      The strangest whim has seized me. . . After all
      I think I will not hang myself to-day.

      To-morrow is the time I get my pay
      My uncle’s sword is hanging in the hall
      I see a little cloud all pink and grey
      Perhaps the rector’s mother will NOT call
      I fancy that I heard from Mr. Gall
      That mushrooms could be cooked another way
      I never read the works of Juvenal
      I think I will not hang myself to-day.

      The world will have another washing-day;
      The decadents decay; the pedants pall;
      And H.G. Wells has found that children play,
      And Bernard Shaw discovered that they squall;
      Rationalists are growing rational
      And through thick woods one finds a stream astray,
      So secret that the very sky seems small
      I think I will not hang myself to-day.


  3. Viv,

    You’ve captured an archetypal truth everyone can relate to with this beautiful and insightful piece. Perhaps because my ancestors were Dutch, I too am sensitive to the darkest season, whereas my husband, who is half Italian, is not, although he far prefers warm weather to cool. I suspect an unconscious response to the light may account for some of this bias. Fear of the dark is primal, even among those whose ancestors come from equatorial regions, because, as you note, this is when our species is most vulnerable.

    You write with a fierce honesty that makes your message very powerful. It touches me deeply.



  4. It says a LOT about the pagan traditions that pre-date Christianity and how they have become mingled with Christmas. Yes, the turning of the year. Keep warm, Viv. The darkness will reach its lowest point in a few more days. And then we can celebrate the return of the sun.


  5. This the season of going within, something commercial Christmas has attempted to change. . It’s not a wonder that many feel a disconnect. Those who gloss over it, I’m afraid, are the losers. If we do not inhale, what have we to exhale? The thirteen Holy Nights a wonderful time to pay attention to dreams and do inner work – a time to reveal in the timeless

    I offer Inner Christmas, an online journal lead by Lynn Jericho: http://www.innerchristmas.com/2/index.php?p=about

    Blessed Holy Nights,


  6. Actually, I like winter, and the cold. I don’t like the Christmas atmosphere and how people behave around it.
    This is the comment that was swallowed by my bad internet connection last week, and I’m not sure what I wanted to say anymore. Sigh.
    Anyway, this year I’m particularly tired (it’s been a busy year after all) and depressed (because things are going down the hill and the next 4 years to fulfill my 5 years plan look awfully long and hard), but I shall overcome! 🙂


  7. You’re not alone. I struggle at this time because our society is asking us to be up and bright and thrusting and cheery when our psyches (well, mine anyhow) wants to retreat to the fire and stay there. Which is, as you say, so very natural really. This is an inward, soul time…a time for introspection, for gathering in, for keeping warm and safe and snug. We need a little hibernation. xxxxxx


  8. I’ve been thinking this year about whether I should start to celebrate Solstice rather than Christmas (or both I suppose, since I’m not sure I can shed my cultural Christianity) because the returning of the light is absolutely a key point for me. Even though the worst of the winter is still to come, everything feels better from now on.


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