The darkest night

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The darkest night has passed. The winter solstice, the shortest day and the longest night of the year. Our ancestors lit bonfires on the winter solstice, the bright light and heat of the flames symbolising the turning of the sun back towards their homes, warming and brightening and lengthening the days.

When they lit the winter solstice bonfire on the weekend, the kids and I were there to watch it. Rugged up in their puffy coats, wooly hats pulled down over their ears, they watched in wonder as the first flames caught, licked the edges of the bonfire, then raced up in a whoosh that sent golden sparks straight up into the clear night sky.

Ralph, in my arms, breathed "Wowwww."

The children's chubby, round cheeks glowed like tiny suns in the reflected light of the winter fire. I sipped mulled wine from a paper cup. Ralph turned his gaze up, up, up. "Bye bye stars!" he called out, as bonfire smoke dimmed the Milky Way, and the crowd cheered.

It was a simple family evening, a solstice bonfire hosted by the Children's Farm at Collingwood. Hot chocolate and doughnuts, a giant lantern parade, fire twirlers, wandering minstrels, about ten billion picnic rugs, and next-to no parking. It felt fun and festive and just the way these things should, but there was a moment, as the beat of the drums sped to a crescendo, and the fire-twirlers bent to the cold, black pyre and their flames flickered, and caught, and began to grow...

...There was a moment when time seemed to compress and the centuries merged and our 21st century bonfire held a 1st century portent. I could almost feel the earth grinding on its journey around the sun, pivoting our faces toward the coming season's warmth as the fire began to eat shadows and bathe the crowd in light...

Then Ralph said "More chips?" and the spell was broken. We were back in our own century, on a cold winter's night in June. I began to be very aware of the burning pain in my left arm from holding such a substantial little man for such a long time. Scout started casting about in the dark for a cup of water, which was only going to end badly and wetly for our fellow solstice-celebrators, so we packed up the picnic rug and decided to head to home.

But we had our moment, winter and I. I won't forget it.

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