It all depends on how you look at it. Today is either the longest night or the beginning of the return of the light. It’s the winter solstice, that time that has been considered haunted for centuries, when the spirit world is once again close to the “material world.” Slowly, incrementally the light will increase from this point on. It will take a couple months for the effect to be really noticeable, and the weather here in the northern hemisphere will trail a bit behind and grow colder as the sky starts to lighten up a little. This juxtaposition likely led to the germanic festival of Yule, which has become conflated with Christmas. Carols tell us of Yule logs at Christmas and some cultures call Christmas itself Yule.
If you consider this day there are again two ways to ponder—appreciating the dark for its own benefits or looking for the return of light. No doubt, lights are everywhere. My town has the central part lit with holiday lights and just this weekend Bethlehem had hundreds of luminaria lining the sidewalks, encouraging the return of light. Yule, it seems to me, catches people at their best. Christmas isn’t quite here yet and people are still kindly disposed to others, coming out to see the lights and feeling carefree, assured that light will return but making the most of life before it becomes humdrum again. We put out our lights, perhaps a little afraid of all this darkness, but at the same time trying to appreciate the restfulness of long nights. Darkness isn’t evil, even if it works that way as a metaphor.
Learning from the dark is under appreciated. As a species we rely heavily on the benefits of sight. It’s natural to be a little afraid when we can’t see. Still, the dark has its own regenerative value. Our bodies actually benefit from being in the dark a few hours each day. Our minds can benefit from the rest. I always think back to the days before electricity allowed us to chase away the night. How much more intensely the night would’ve been felt. Even with our artificial lights nothing can compare with the light scatter of our own skies as the sun’s powerful lumens flood our hemisphere. Yule seems the appropriate time to think about the contrast, but not conflict between light and dark. The idea that opposites must fight doesn’t really help us in this world of many contrasts. Isn’t it better to ponder how we might learn from the dark?