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We leave the warmth of the building, boots crunching against the snow, plumes of breath-vapour foreshadowing the smoke from the bonfire that we will gather around, lit to drive back the dark. We huddle, loosely grouped, to stare into the flames, just as our distant ancestors might have. Only, they would have assembled on a hilltop, and not in the middle of town. On a hilltop, with the ominous darkness lurking everywhere, and only the leaping flames of their fires under the scattered stars to act as a small symbol of defiance and hope.
Even if we are less shadowed by fear and better armed against the biting cold than they, still, still, we are here to observe the ancient ritual, the celebration of the winter solstice. And as we stand, the world is poised for a moment, then crosses the turning point that signals that the days will begin to length, that the pendulum has reached the end of its arc and there is nowhere to go but up, until the cycle is repeated once again, as it has for so many years and decades and centuries spinning back unfathomably long.
Here in the chill of a December night, pried loose from the warmth of our houses and the mind-numbing constancy of TV, we are shocked by the cold and the simple symbolism of a single small fire into wakefulness and recognition and wonder at the passing of the seasons, the passing of time, the cycle of all things and the smallness of our part in it, and we celebrate the paradox that although winter has now officially arrived, its death is already foretold in the ever-increasing daylight that will follow, bringing with it springtime and the promise of warmth, new life, and hope.
Grey against the snow
A moth's cocoon
Clings to a bare branch.