Light, stronger than shadow

The winter solstice, which marks the start of the cold season, is the longest night of the year. It takes place tonight, 22 December, at 4.27 am. It’s time to celebrate the victory of light over shadow. Fiction around a few candles. – Text: Isabelle Cerboneschi. Photos: Buonomo & Cometti.

This Universal wheel, this merry-go-round
In our imagination we have found
The sun a flame, in the Cosmic lantern bound
We are mere ghosts, revolving, the flame surround.-

Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Tonight is the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. I love this moment of passage. It reminds me of my childhood, when my mother was alive and I was a little boy who believed that life was a long series of happy moments. She had brought with her from her native Iran her lilting accent, the poems of Rûmi, Hafez and Omar Khayyam. Her festivals too. Yaldâ is by far the most joyous. It is a festival of victory: of light over shadow, of Lady Sun over Mister Moon. In Persian, the moon is masculine, the sun is feminine, and Yaldâ means ‘birth of the sun’.

It was the only evening when my sister and I were allowed to stay up as late as possible. Our mother would ask us to offer a portion of our heart’s flame to Lady Sun so that she could regain her strength and push back the darkness. And we did, because that’s what we grew up believing, convinced that our flame, however young, however small, had a role to play.

That evening, to give us strength, our mother prepared a thick vegetable soup and plates of dried fruit, as well as red fruit to give us energy, especially pomegranates, cut into quarters. There was red wine for the adults, fruit juice for my sister and me, our parents read us poems, we lit candles and the idea was never to let the flame go out: never to let the shadow take over. When we made it past midnight and fell asleep, our mother would ask us to stay awake a little longer, just a little longer, to help Lady Sun. And at dawn, when she appeared, we knew we hadn’t been awake in vain.

Tonight, we’re celebrating Yaldâ at our family chalet in the mountains. Since our mother died, my sister has carried on the tradition. Tradition is beautiful. It reminds us of where we come from, of our roots. My nephews and nieces have taken our place around the table, with their sleepy eyes, but as convinced as we were of the importance of their gift. There’s nothing more beautiful than a child who believes in his or her own magic.

The fire is crackling in the fireplace. I love the smell of wood burning and clinging to your hair. Outside, the snow has completely covered the path leading to the chalet. Snow has a way of muffling everything: noises, footsteps and a bit of the past. It’s like a blank page on which to leave new traces of yourself.

On the night of 22 December, at 4.27 am, at the time of the winter solstice, I lit a few perfumed candles and then mechanically turned my gaze to the window: swirls of snowflakes were offering us the image of a slow-motion dance. “It’s snowing”, I suddenly said. My nephews, who had been dozing off, suddenly woke up and squealed with delight. They went outside without their anoraks, stretching their faces towards the immaculate sky where Mister Moon was very discreet. I saw them stick out their tongues to catch a few snowflakes. The flame in their hearts was reaching straight up to the sky. Tomorrow, it’s certain, Lady Sun will triumph over the world of shadows.

The All-I-C team wishes you a very happy festive season!