I saw an anecdote on Twitter this week about the words for December in Irish Gaelic and Scottish Gaelic – in Irish Gaelic it’s Mí na Nollag (Month of Christmas) and in Scottish Gaelic it’s An Dubhlachd (The Blackness). There are historical and cultural reasons for this somewhat amusing difference, but nonetheless it’s quite striking. I’ve been having talks with friends in the past several days about this darkest time of year, as Norway is now gearing up for Christmas. Advent has begun, and the city streets are positively full of twinkling lights. There are multiple traditions that involve bringing light into the darkest month – one that comes to mind in the Germanic countries is the tradition of having four advent candles (often arranged in an adventskrans, or an advent wreath) which are lit on the four Sundays of advent. On the first Sunday, the first candle is lit. On the second Sunday, two candles. And so on. The tradition is strong here and for many, it’s largely secular, despite advent’s Christian ties. Viewers of Skeindeer’s Vlogmas videos will be familiar with the poem that many recite while lighting the candles. These days, Norway also celebrates Saint Lucia on the 13th. Other religious traditions and cultures have their own versions of bringing light into the darkness, and a common thread is that bringling light into the dark creates hope. I meditated on this theme a little bit on this blog back in 2016 (see the post “on darkness and light“).
I continue to be drawn to these themes. When we lived in Montreal, one of the things I really missed in summer and winter were the extremes of light that came with the solstices in the north. We knew Montreal’s winter would be brutally cold, but we expected to cope better because the sun would rise every day. On the contrary, we found ourselves missing the darkness of the northern winter. For me, I felt so in tune with the cycle of the seasons and the movement of the earth when we lived in the north. So in many ways it’s a relief to come back, even if in Trondheim we’re not quite as far north as we were in Tromsø.
The weather has been in flux here as the days get shorter – the snow has started, but then it’s followed by rain, which is followed by more snow, and then more rain. The rainy days are darker, because the snow forms a giant bright reflector on the ground. At the moment, though, I’m not minding the rainy days. I’m just happy to be back in the north.
And while we’re on the subject of the days growing shorter, a few weeks ago a book I’d been looking forward to was released: The Shortest Day, by Susan Cooper, illustrated by Carson Ellis. I’ve been a big fan of Carson’s work for years and years, and I found out about this book because she was working on it. “The Shortest Day” is a poem by Susan Cooper, and here it’s been turned into a picture book for kids, accompanied by Carson’s beautiful illustrations. The poem is an ode to the winter solstice, a celebration of the fact that the shortest day is a turning point – once you finally reach it, the light starts to return again. It touches on the cyclical nature of it over time that I enjoy so much. “Welcome, Yule!”