Feast-Keeping: The Longest Night of the Year

… feasting and all enjoyments
gratefully taken are,
at their heart, acts of war.

— Douglas Kaine McKelvey, Every Moment Holy

In much of the Northern Hemisphere the days are growing shorter, colder; the darkness catches us off guard with its earliness. The trees have passed their peak of autumn splendor and now are giving up their withered leaves one by one; the flowers are fading fast; the browning grass is going to sleep until the spring. All nature is making the long descent into winter, to the longest night of the year, but we humans rage against this dying of the light.

In my mind, winter always starts on December 1st, when the festivities of the Christmas season are in full swing. Winter then means nutmeg and cinnamon and cloved oranges, pink peppermint malts and caroling the neighborhood with plates of sugar cookies. It means light and laughter, joy and wonder. But by January 2nd, I have no use for winter, and the slow climb to the warmer days of spring seems to last forever.

Lately, however, I’ve realized something. While this twenty-first of December will bring both the dawn of winter and the year’s longest night, on the twenty-second, the days will begin to lengthen again, even though the few miniscule minutes more of daylight may not be noticeable at first. But the world is still turning, and the light is coming to bring things back to life.

Nothing in the natural world is a coincidence, since it was all spoken into being by the Light Himself. In the introduction to his account of Jesus’s life, ministry, death and resurrection, the apostle John writes, “All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness did not overcome it.” Later on in John’s account, Jesus Himself says, “I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.”

It is fitting, then, as we mark the coming of winter, that we should feast in defiance of the dark, celebrating the Light Who came down into our decay and despair to give us life everlasting, and Who will one day return to drive the darkness away forever.

A prayer for the longest night

A feast for the longest night of the year