Monday, December 21, 2009

St. Lucy's Night

So, here it is, the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. It was light for 9 hours and 12 minutes in Chicago. In northern England, York, it was light for barely seven.

I'm in a distinct minority concerning these short days. I love them. I love Chicago in December. At around 4:00ish, looking out over the lake, the water and the sky are an almost indistinguishable, soft green. Right as the sun sets, the sky turns deep royal blue and it is like a gorgeous, lush, blanket.

When I was a girl in Memphis we celebrated Christmas Eve with my mother's family. The ladies would dress up. The men all wore ties. All the women in my mother's family have wonderful taste. Except me. If the party was at my Aunt Eileen's or my Great Aunt Katty's, it was always the same. The inside of the house looked so pretty, and there was good food on the table, the grown ups got a little loose and funny. And then, around midnight, we'd leave. I can still conjure up that magical, special feeling: the cold, crisp night, the privilege of being up so late, feeling secure and loved, blanketed in recent festivity, the quiet, bright lights and dark skies.

Oh, I know it still gets dark in the summer. But it's not the same. Summertime dark lacks the coziness and richness of night in winter.

Every night after this one is a little shorter.

People have celebrated the solstice since people have been people; they've celebrated the return of the light. But, there's room to mourn the coming shortness of the night. At least, that's how I always feel at this time of year.

What do you say to a little Byron? I hope you don't think this poem is shlocky. I mean, sure, pretentious dudes who overestimate their capacity for depth have tried to use it for a few hundred years as a means to getting laid. But, if I'm being fair, Byron probably wrote it to get laid. This doesn't really matter. I think he gets night about right. Remember: read it aloud!

SHE walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that 's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!