top of page

The Darkest Night

Growing up on the Canadian prairies, just a touch south of latitude 52, I have witnessed the splendor of the midsummer sun’s gradual disappearance below the horizon at 10 pm. 

In late June that beauty lingers as the sunken sun continues to paint an orange glow along the northern horizon—midsummer night’s promise that sunrise is just a few hours away. 

June’s midsummer night, however, marks the beginning of the sunlight’s slow decline to the darkest night of winter. I remember walking home from school in December with deepening darkness falling at 4:30.

In some parts of northern Europe, and Canada the sun never rises above the horizon during these dark days of winter solstice. Ancient stories of the sun being stolen by one monster, or another are prevalent. Efforts were made to rejuvenate or bring the sun back.

Saturnalia was an ancient, madcap, Roman pagan festival lasting seven to fourteen days. The festival included feasting, homes decorated with boughs of laurel and evergreen trees, gifts exchanged, and lamps kept burning to ward off the spirits of darkness. It was an attempt to bring good cheer in the season of long nights. 

In 274 C.E. the Romans introduced a celebration of the birth of the sun god, Sol Invictus, on December 25. as another way to celebrate the solstice season.

These Roman celebrations are closely linked to the beginnings of Christmas.

Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire in 380 C.E. Suddenly thousands of people in the Empire needed to be instructed in the Christian faith and stories. So, Pope Julius I officially established December 25 as Jesus’ birthday, hitchhiking on the celebrations of these pagan festivals.

These cold and dark days of winter can produce periods of depression, sadness, and loneliness. 

St. John of the Cross, a Spanish priest of the sixteenth century wrote of the “dark night of the soul,” a period of confusion, helplessness, and a sense of the withdrawal of God’s presence.  In contemporary times that expression often refers more to spiritual doubt and loneliness.

Have you experienced times of dark moments of loss, despair, tragedy, and loneliness? 

Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist, experienced firsthand his own total despair and that of his companions while imprisoned in Auschwitz for three years during the Nazi regime. The suffering, both physical and mental, was so severe many contemplated and carried out suicide. Frankl struggled to find the meaning of life amidst his chaotic suffering. 

He concluded the meaning of life is not something you discover packaged, but something you create daily. How can my life be meaningful today? He concluded the full meaning of life is not “to gain pleasure and avoid pain.”  Life can be purposeful both in the dark nights, and in the beauty of more pleasant times.

Today, watching the horror of death to children, women, and thousands of others in the present wars in Israel, Ukraine, and Sudan can create “a dark night of the soul,” making one cry out, as Jesus did at his moment of deepest darkness, “Why? God, where are you?” 

As we witness wars, the ravages to our environment by climate change, or someone experiencing personal darkness, might we be inclined to agree with the words of Lord Grey who said in 1914 at the beginning of World War I, “The lights of the world are going out one by one, and we shall not see them lit again in our day.” 

Can the darkness today be overcome by some redemptive light? Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” 

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” One small candle in the deepest darkness throws a penetrating light; many candles can illuminate a vast space.

The local evening news told the story of a homeless man in Winnipeg. He had lost his job due to illness and had built a shelter in a ditch from shipping pallets, lined with cardboard, and covered with a blue tarp. Jean wanted to take him a blanket she had quilted and a pillow. But when we arrived, his makeshift shelter was gone. Someone, who also heard the news story, arranged for him to have a small apartment. Others donated furnishings. Jean’s blanket must go to another. A wonderful story of others’ lights brightening the darkness for a stranger. 

Christmas, both secular and sacred, comes with lights, gifts, greenery, song, and many acts of kindness and love brightening the lives of families and strangers.

The early church leader’s choice to mark the celebration of the birth of the one who declared, “I am the light of the world,” at that moment of winter’s darkest night, provided a message of hope. To grasp meaningfulness during winter’s dark nights is to cling to the hope of light’s return.

Just recently I learned of one church challenging its congregation to raise $100,000 during this Christmas season to help in the reconstruction of one of the destroyed hospitals in Gaza. A wonderful example of hope during a devastating war.

Joyce Meyer, a Christian writer says, “Real hope is a constant positive attitude that no matter what is happening currently, things will get better.”

The words of a favourite Advent hymn call for that hope.

“A Candle is burning, a flame warm and bright,

A candle of hope in December’s dark night.

Oh come, all you faithful, rejoice in this night,

As God comes among us, the Christian’s true light.”

This Christmas how can we through an act of forgiveness, kindness and love brighten the life of someone and give meaning to our own? 

“It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.”

Late June sunset paints an orange glow along the northern horizon—midsummer night’s promise that sunrise is just a few hours away.

Fire and Iron

Read more from this Canadian Writer, Norm Fullerton, in his Fire and Iron book. A collection of short stories husband and wife relationship orientated. This Canadian book comes with printable book club discussion questions.

Inspirational Stories of Relationships

Fire and Iron Book Cover 3D (Instagram Post).png
bottom of page