The Longest Night

I read an article online today promising tonight, Winter Solstice 2014, is the longest night ever in the history of our planet. Because the earth always moving from the sun due to IMAGINE SCIENCTIFICAL-TYPE STATEMENTS HERE ‘CAUSE I WAS TOO LAZY TO COPY THEM, which therefore means that today is roughly two seconds longer than last year. Tonight is the longest night we’ve ever experienced.


This alarms me.

I realize in checking the spelling of ‘exaggerate’ three times I already used up those extra two seconds allotted to our spinning planet this year, but it still freaks me out. Some days I look around me and I worry the darkness is winning. There are cops being killed in Florida tonight, possibly in retaliation for the killing of an unarmed black man. Our country is dealing with the after-effects of yet another racially-convoluted killing. How many people of color need to be slaughtered before we, on an institutional level, start saying, “No more deaths. We have to figure this out.”

It would be one thing if this were the first, shocking instance. But on the night before I was born in 1967, mom could see the McDonalds burning down across the street. She thought, ‘What kind of world?’ These were the Detroit Race Riots. Followed by a lot of incidents between then and now. So, you know, this isn’t new news.

Sometimes our world feel like the longest night. The darkest night. Will it ever get better?

And, hey. Happy holidays.

For me, the holidays are a combination of my best memories and a few of my least-favorite. Luckily, awesomeness outshines the bad, but that does not mean I feel both freely. Tired and needing a break, this year, I opted out of Christmas.

I didn’t know you could do that.

Other times, when I’ve missed Christmas at home, they were exceptions and had good reasons. I’ve had a lot more years in my hometown than away.

One year, Ann and I drove to Mississippi to do cleanup after Hurricane Katrina. An intense experience grieving and loving strangers. My first Christmas away from my family. When I called home on Christmas Eve, they passed the phone around and I sat in the back seat of my car and imagined the smells in mom’s house.  Fresh gingerbread. Roast beef.

Peppermint burning candles.

Last year, Ann and I drove to Galveston, Texas and treated ourselves to a vacation. Another first. I’d never spent a holiday pampering myself with my best friend in a gorgeous location. The experience was shocking to me. Liberating and naughty.

This year, I’m skipping the holiday claiming exhaustion and no vacation days. Both are true. And though I’ve seen family a lot this past year including Thanksgiving weekend, this is a lost opportunity to see family. No decorating gingerbread cookies with siblings on Christmas Eve morning. Beautiful friends in the twin cities have offered me invites. And yet, I want to see who I am without the holiday. I want to see who shows up.

And on the plus side, I didn’t have to put up outside lights this year.

Although I do like looking at all the lights. I will admit to my well-orchestrated neighbors, I’m impressed. Sorry for not doing my part this year, but good job.

They’re pretty, right? Regardless of religion or creed, we all agree that colored lights on a charming, snow-covered home is something we can appreciate as having a kind of loveliness. You don’t have to live here to appreciate that. You can nod to the north and share that appreciation from Texas. And still think, ‘They’re insane to live in that snow.’

Lights are pretty.

Obviously, I’ve been a little torn about the holidays. Happy to have zero shopping, and no decorating responsibilities. But sad, because it’s fun to get caught up in the excitement of gift giving and wrapping, and seeing surprise on a loved one’s face. There’s some real beauty in this season.

Friday night I was chatting with my friend Joel, and explaining my missing out. Joel and I talked about a number of things, previous holiday experiences, the good and the bad. At one point, he sounded distracted I asked him what he was doing. He explained that he was untangling his lights.

I asked, “Christmas tree?”

Just asking that made me miss all my favorite Christmas ornaments and remembering I would not see them for at least another year.

“No, a solstice tree. Just white lights. Last year, I dried out orange slices and placed them on the tree to represent the sun. They turned out really well.”

“Why celebrate the longest night?”

I was feeling a little contrary, I guess. Maybe I was looking for something to celebrate. I had been dwelling on the darkness all around us. Institutionalized racism. Revenge killings. So many wrongs still need to be righted.

Joel said, “I celebrate what happens next. The light. Days start getting longer.”

We talked about it and though I have plenty of friends who celebrate Solstice, I had never really given it much thought and I now found myself intrigued, the idea of celebrating nothing but the light. The light comes back. Weakly at first, but it’s coming back. Though January and February must unfurl with blizzards for us to slog through, still the light grows stronger.

And so do we.

By the time we hung up, I had found the clear lights in my basement storage and selected which potted plant to decorate, my Norfolk Pine, a former Christmas tree. I realized what I had been missing by not participating in Christmas this year. The ability to celebrate with others. To just feel celebratory.

Maybe this week is the anniversary of Jesus’ birth. Maybe it’s a marketing campaign masterminded by a hungry world religion. Who cares? Can we just say, Merry Christmas and let the words mean, ‘I celebrate you in your language.’ Happy Chanukah and Blessed Be if that’s what they want to hear. If we can’t celebrate the ideological differences or embrace each other’s life experiences, maybe we can still find surprising common ground.

Without agreeing on the target, we can celebrate being people who love to celebrate.

I awoke this morning excited to celebrate my non-celebratory year. I created a list of 34 things I’d like done this week. House projects mostly. Cupboards and storage things cleaned up. Piles sorted. I am getting rid of 50 items from this house. I make tic marks on the massive chore sheet. This is my celebration, and I gotta tell ya, I like making lists and checking things off.

I’m also seeing a few friends, so do not fret over me. I’m not completely isolated.

While scrubbing old water stains on the basement floor this afternoon, I spied the tub of Christmas decorations and decided to add one of my favorite ornaments, a cardboard bungalow home almost identical mine, intricately carved and hand-painted, crafted by an ex-boyfriend from my youth. Also, a jade elephant from Ireland made the tree, the last elephant from Ireland, sent to me by ridiculous, wonderful people. New friends.

I would never know them except for the internet.

Had a little shopping to do so I ended up going to Target. I chatted happily with the checkout lady and I was surprised she had so much good cheer, working in such a demanding environment, hour after hour. She celebrated me.

In another grocery store, a meat company employee offered me a cocktail wiener. He tried to explain the unique grilling flavor, but I cut him off immediately with “Yes, please. Yes.”

I love little cocktail wieners at holiday parties.

And, the taste of these guys! The rich flavor was tangy-grilled without tons of barbeque sauce (which I also like). Surprisingly perfect. I chatted with him about his hot dogs and then eagerly bought a package. He said thank you to me, and he was sincere.

A few aisles later, I was humming the Christmas carols, vaguely echoing the music swimming above me and feeling very happy about celebrating and not-celebrating. I am someone who welcomes the light. At the end of the aisle, I ran into a woman who only had a few things in her basket which included two packages of the amazing cocktail wieners.

I jabbed my finger at them and said, “You got suckered into that taste test.”

With a surprised seriousness she said, “Those were really good.”

“I bought them, too, see? What is it about those things?”

We chatted about hot dogs and holiday parties for another few sentences and went on our way. She will never know me, hell, she doesn’t even remember me at this point. But we were light to each other, for a split second. She might stand for everything I detest. I might be her worst liberal nightmare. But we chose to be light.

Tonight, I welcome the longest night.

C’mon, darkness, settle in. Depress us. Convince us there is no hope for morning. We will end you, longest night. We end you with a festival of lights. Kwanzaa. Chanukah. Christmas. And those who look at anyone in that pile and say, “You people are crazy.” We celebrate them, too.

People who find cocktail wieners disgusting and people like me.

All of us, together.

When we celebrate each other, we cannot be stopped.

We are the light.


13 Responses to “The Longest Night”

  1. Jaycee Edward Says:

    I love you, Edmond Manning. There. I said it – for all the world to see. I know I give you tons of crap online, but I honestly adore you and I know you know it. You somehow have managed to sum up how I’m feeling this holiday – which is – I’m not feeling it. It’s the same way I felt about NaNo this year. It’s almost rebellious in nature – not rebelling against the holiday (or NaNo) itself, but the feeling of being pushed into it. I want to celebrate (or write) on my own terms. My tree is up and I got a smidgen of baking done. What few things I bought still need wrapped. I will somehow get it done, even though I’ve managed to catch some sort of crud. I’m also looking forward to my brother coming home for the first time in a year. When he gets here, I’m sure to perk up. Your celebration of light is perfect. I love the idea that each day from this point on, gets a little better. That IS something to celebrate – especially in the north. Yup. Yup. Yup. (And seriously, who doesn’t love those little cocktail weiners?)

  2. Dermot Kennedy Says:

    Dear Edmond,

    Again you have managed to hit the nail on the head in articulating how a lot of us feel about Christmas. Last night I worked the sound desk at a consciousness festival, close to Newgrange, a 5,000 year old building perfectly aligned to the winter soltice. An hour before dawn everyone rose, walked down country lanes, across fields and gathered at Newgrange, cirlcing the ancient building and holding hands to welcome the light. And I thought, we need more of this type of thing, more conscious effort in spreading the light. I like to think there is no darkness, only places that the light hasn’t reached yet. But give it time, it will get there eventually. Happy Christmas Edmond, wherever and however you choose to celebrate it. Keep spreading your light


  3. Marleen Kennedy Says:

    I loved your post, Edmond. I’m not much for Christmas. I’ve got nothing against it, and I do enjoy spending time with family and loved ones but I consistently fail to get as excited or exercised about it as those around me. As a result I often feel like the odd duck out, especially here in Ireland where Christmas appears to be THE event of the year.

    I do always look forward to December 21st. While it may be another month or more before I’ll actually notice the days have gotten longer, just the thought that the tide has turned is enough to cheer me up.

    Thank you for mentioning the mini wieners (or knakworstjes as we call them in the Netherlands). I haven’t seen or eaten them since we moved to Ireland and didn’t, until I read your post, realise how nice it would be to get my hands on some.

    Over the next few days I’ll enjoy spending time with my daughter and husband while contemplating how lucky I’ve been over the past year. I’ve had the good fortune to meet some wonderful people online, one or two of whom have captured a place in my heart. I’m grateful you’ve found your place there.It’s now hard to imagine my life without the smiles, laughs, and opportunities to look at things from a different angle, you’ve provided me with. Thank you.

  4. Lynn Lorenz Says:

    Great post, Edmond. We’ve been working toward a less stressful holiday for years and we use it to celebrate family.

    Were those the cranberry pork cocktail weiners? Cuz I bought two packs of them also!

  5. Nicole Says:

    My mantra for this day after the longest night, especially helpful when considering the state of the world: “I invite the light of the sun into my heart. May it shine from my heart to the world.”

    Seems to mesh with your musings rather well.

  6. Sara Says:

    You sum up so many thoughts that I want to save this and reread it again and again. :) Thank you for the good thoughts and many happy thoughts to you too! :)

  7. Edmond Says:

    Thank you, Sara! Winter solstice joy to you!

  8. Edmond Says:

    Amen to that – may it shine from my heart to the world!

  9. Edmond Says:

    Lynn, I do not know where those mysterious wieners come from. I only know I’m not sharing mine with you. Sorry. And happy holidays.

  10. Edmond Says:

    Thank you for the big holiday blessing, Helena! I totally understand that feeling of looking around and being the least ‘excited.’ But the part I do love is hanging out with my family. And that’s the holiday for me. And now…with online friends, there’s a bigger family! Cheers to you, new friend. Cheers.

  11. Edmond Says:

    What a beautiful event, Dermot. When I was in Italy, I was completely flummoxed by the age of things. Yes, I knew there would be old buildings and ruins, etc. No surprise there. But I did not count on my awe – my sheer awe – at standing near them and contemplating the thousands and thousands of lives who had seen and touched these stones, this corner, this particular arch….it overwhelmed me. I get shivers when you describe people gathering around a 5,000 year old building. That doesn’t even compute but it makes me intensely jealous to know what it’s like to stand with those people to welcome the light. Wow.

  12. Edmond Says:

    I love you too, Jaycee.

  13. Jaycee Edward Says:

    Awww…I came back to make a snarky comment about where Marleen could “get her hands on” a mini weiner, but then you when and got me all teary.

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