The Longest Night: What the Winter Solstice Can Teach Us

Dec 19, 2021

“Over the winter glaciers, I see the summer glow. And through the wind-piled snowdrift, the warm rosebuds below.” 

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

On December 21st, us in the Northern Hemisphere will move together through the winter solstice of 2021.

This is the moment where the North Pole is tilted the furthest from the sun before coming back again, causing the “darkest” or “longest night.” At this end-of-year, we’ll experience the shortest amount of daylight, longest time spent in darkness, and the following morning will rise as the start of the new, light half of the year.

This moment, across cultures, is seen as the final moment of darkness, of survival through cold winter nights, before the sun begins to return again in the light half.

Traditions dating back to ancient civilizations are known to have celebrated in similar ways that we do now: feasting, dancing, bonfires, being with loved ones, showing gratitude, and something special: Acknowledging that only through winter (going inward, relying on food stores, surviving) can we experience summer again (going outward, producing, thriving). The celebrations focus on coming together in the darkest moments, so that we may emerge anew when dawn breaks.

And I can’t help but take advantage of this moment to speak on how we can lean on each other through times of great change, transition, upheaval, and even turmoil and tragedy.

There’s been no shortage of these things in the last two years. Between collective environmental pain, civil discourse, the pandemic, loss of loved ones or homes or jobs or routines or friends or predictability… We have all been facing what I think is fair to call a “darkest night” for far too long.

But it’s in these moments of change and suffering, both personal and collective, that we are also facing unique opportunities.

The pains we’ve gone through serve us in so many ways (reminding us of what we took for granted so that we don’t continue taking it for granted, teaching us that “not now doesn’t mean not ever,” lessons of hope and healing and grief)... But most of all, I think they’ve taught us that in our most personal, dark moments, we are not alone. We may feel as isolated as ever, but we are going through these things together.

In this period of darkness, I implore you to not only be proud of yourself for wading through day by day, but for holding onto the hope that the darkness will, one day, break, and hopeful sunlight will help us thaw.

The last two years have been filled with so much sorrow. But they’ve also been filled with so much bonding, joy, learning, changing, encouragement, and hope. As you celebrate the holidays, which continue to look very different for many of us, and reflect on the past, I encourage you to also look to the future.

Dawn will always come to end the longest night.

The parts that didn’t make it through the dead of winter will help foster new growth. Those that grew small in hibernation will awaken to new opportunities. And the evergreens, invisible as they may have been to us, have remained and will remain.

And if we can lean on each other in the meantime, we can emerge transformed for the better when that morning finally comes.

 


 

In 2022, I’ll be starting a “Dare to Thrive” series  — exploring and embracing all the ways we can thrive during times of transition and change.

Each week will be full of best practices I’ve discovered over decades of consulting and coaching some of the top leaders and teams across the globe. It promises to inspire, inform, and ignite ways of living fully.

At the same time, for many of us, a path of continued grief and healing remains. As I’ve shared often, we don’t have to resolve sorrow to live fully in joy. To support those who are grappling with lingering grief and loss, I will be writing on a separate blog called Shadow Journey.

If the messages I’ve shared from my personal story and what I’ve learned through my grief journey have been helpful to you, I encourage you to subscribe to the Shadow Journey newsletter as well to continue to receive those messages.  You’ll still receive my anneharbison.com newsletter, but will have additional resources that offer hope and healing.

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