Today is the winter solstice. Today, in the northern hemisphere, the sun crosses the sky at the southernmost arc, making this the shortest daylight of the year.
I learned most of my European history through music. I sang in choir and played the flute in band and orchestra. There was something about the music that set the mood of the days and centuries that happened in another place, and another time. I am grateful to this day for this learning of history as part and parcel of the culture of the West.
"Imagine," said Miss P., "That you are an Irish monk, living in a monestary north of 50 degrees latitude, somewhere near the sea. It is December, and it is dark most of the time, and during daylight, snow, fog and clouds make the light gray, and the sky translucent. It is cold, it is dark, and you wonder if the sun will ever return, if the days will ever lengthen, and if you will ever see the light and the growth of spring again. Even though you know it will come, it is hard to imagine it."
This was one part of European history that I had just learned about that year. After the Roman Empire fell, during the dark ages in northern Europe, when peoples were on the move, and when people exerted all of their energy just to keep the wolves away from the door. And who made sure in those dark times, over those dread winters, that the remnants of that great classical civilization were preserved? In the north, all that was left of the writings of the West was kept by the Irish monks--the ones who in that dark time illuminated the Book of Kells.
Today, on the Solstice, note especially what is sung here as the third verse that requests the return of sunlight, and the dispelling of shadow and darkness: