Every holiday season, I wrote a new story for my children and my nieces and nephews. This year's story is a story for the winter solstice. I hope you enjoy it.
Rabbit and the Longest Night
Nutkin had fur as brown as a nut, hence her name, for her mother, like most rabbits, was more practical than creative. Nutkin lived with her brothers Leaf, Acorn, and Moss and her sister Fern. They all lived together in a lovely set of holes near the barn protected by holly bushes from cats and foxes.
Normally, one would find it prudent to hide from a fox, if one were indeed a rabbit. But today, of all the days of the year, was different. Nutkin and her litter-mates were busy gathering apples from their stores to go out into the forest and celebrate side by side WITH the fox, and the badger, and the hedgehog, and of course, robin-redbreast. Even the farm cat was invited, provided she could behave herself.
“Won’t the fox eat us?” Nutkin asked. “Or the badger chase us?”
“On most days, shiny whiskers,” replied her mother, “but not today.”
“But why?” Nutkin asked, scrunching her nose.
“Because we all need to take a break from chasing and running,” her mother said. “There are times to be at peace and to be still, and this is one of those times.”
“But why tonight of all nights?” Nutkin asked, thumping her foot. “It is so dark and cold.”
“Because tonight is the darkest and coldest of nights and that is why it is special,” her mother said, placing a paw on Nutkin’s foot to still it.
“But WHY?!” Nutkin asked, pulling at her ears and rolling her brown eyes in her brown head.
Mother Rabbit laughed and gathered all of her children around her. “Let me tell you a story,” she said. “And then you will know why.”
When the world was still new, the sun was already old. The sun only got older and older as time went by and grew more and more tired and went to bed earlier and earlier each night until the day seemed but a breath and the night lasted longer than one could really take.
Without the sun, the world grew colder and colder. And so it was that the animals decided to do something. All the animals— the rabbit and the badger and the hedgehog and robin red-breast and even the fox forgot their quarrels and went to the king of the forest— who was a tall, white stag with a rack of antlers nearly as wide as an oak tree. He was kind as he was brave.
“Forest King, tell us what to do!” the animals cried.
“Without the sun, the plants do not grow and we are hungry!” said Rabbit.
“Without the sun, the rivers have frozen and we are thirsty,” said Fox.
“Without the sun, we have no warmth and we are cold,” said Hedgehog.
“Without the sun, I have no joy and cannot sing,” said Robbin Red Breast.
“Well, that is a problem,” Forest King said. “But you know that things get older, as you and I do, and the sun is getting older. But I will see what can be done.”
And so the forest king left and was gone for a long time. The animals wanted him to fix things, but it was cold and dark and so worry overtook their hearts and made the night seem even colder and darker.
When the king of the forest came back, the night had still not ended. Even the stars seemed dim in the darkness. The king hung his head low, his antlers dragging on the ground, for he was burdened with sad news. “My friends,” said the king, “the sun has died.”
The animals of the forest wept, not for their hunger nor their cold nor the lack of Robbin’s song, but for the death of the sun who sweetened the berries on the brambles for them and sparkled and danced on the river for them and wrapped them in such warm summers.
“Without the sun, it will only get colder and surely we will all die,” Badger said and his tiny tears turned into icicles in the snow.
But kings are not without magic, and one thing the king of the forest knew was that hope still beat in his heart and hope is what his subjects needed most. And so, he stood an old oak branch in the snow and touched his royal head to it and set it alight. It shone like the smallest of suns, a single flame standing in the snow. “Keep hope,” he said, “for though this tree has died, still it can feed the flame.”
All the animals sat in the snow, watching the little fire. Rabbit ran back to her stores and brought out apples to share, for if this was the end, should they stay hungry? Fox ran back to his stash and brought out a jug of cider, for if this was the end, should they be thirsty? Hedgehog ran back to her burrow and found some pine boughs for them all to curl up on, for if this was the end, should they be cold?
They all watched the flame as it burned further and further down the branch, but they made merry as best they could. They wore wreathes of holly on their heads, and sang songs and told funny stories, for if this was the end, should they not laugh?
When the apples were eaten and the jug was empty, and the oak branch nearly ash, the flame sputtered in the snow and died. “Have hope,” the king said.
“Even now?” Badger asked, his bold stripes no longer visible in the darkness that surrounded them.
“Especially now,” the king said.
And in that moment, in the darkest of nights when even the moon lost her way, there came a brightening at the edge of the sky.
“Look!” shouted Badger.
There, on the crest of the hill was a sliver of golden light. It crept higher and higher into the sky, until is became a pale yellow disc taking over the darkness and awakening the world once more.
“The sun is reborn!” The Forest King cried. And with that, Robbin Red-Breast climbed into the warming sky, singing a song to welcome the new sun. His tune was so lively and joyous that the animals forgot their cold at once and began to dance.
This was a new sun and had some growing yet to do, but eventually, the days got longer and longer and the ice melted and the berries ripened on the brambles and the creatures were wrapped in warm summers once more.
As Mother Rabbit finished the story, the little rabbit kits hopped and danced in circles, each darting off to grab an apple and begging to be let out their warm hole and enter the long, dark night.
“Children,” Mother Rabbit said, “it is a long night yet. But remember to share what you can and to enjoy this peace.”
“Because we are many animals,” Nutkin said, “but we all live under the same dark night and we all hope for the new sun together?”
Mother Rabbit stroked Nutkin’s ears and smiled. “Yes, Sweet Feet. In the end, hope and joy are what lights any darkness.”
And whether you are a rabbit waiting for the birth of the sun on the longest night of the year, or a Christian celebrating the birth of the son of God on December 25th, the joy is the same. And you are not alone, for in India they wear bright clothes and eat good food, decorating with colorful lights to beat back the darkness on Dwali. Those of the Jewish faith gather to light the menhora, celebrating how one day’s oil lasted eight nights. All over Asia people celebrate by lighting paper lanterns to send into the dark night sky to celebrate the new year. Though the year is cold and the nights are long, hope and joy burn brightly in all of us.