“Between the woods and frozen lake, the darkest evening of the year,” wrote Robert Frost in his poem “Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening.”

Well, if not the darkest, then tonight will at least be the longest night of the year. A mere 7 hours and 50 minutes of daylight will leave an expanse of 16 hours and 10 minutes of darkness.

And this year, it will be particularly dark, as the winter solstice occurs on Dec. 21, just two days after the new moon.

It is also perhaps darker in contrast to our recent super moon that was so bright that all I had to do was open the blinds to read at night.

Scientifically, the solstice is the moment when the sun is shining farthest to the south, directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. That leaves us in the hinterlands qualifying as the farthest north and in the greatest amount of daily darkness.

Well, not exactly, as there are many places far darker – take, for example, parts of Scandinavia, and Alaska, that are light for only a few hours a day. Eek! In comparison, we are a veritable sunshiny locale here in Maine.

But, back to the reality of this particularly dark period of our winter. . .

While I used to dread the long hours of darkness after the end of Daylight Savings Time, I have come around to appreciate the quiet of this period of winter. It has also given me the opportunity to celebrate other kinds of light – moonlight, starlight, candlelight, and firelight.

Moonlight and starlight provide a way to peek into the secret dealings of the animal world at night – prowling owls and scurrying voles. Inside, firelight and candlelight provide particular warmth and invite closeness of people gathered around them.

So, here we are on the eve of the longest night of the year, about to celebrate a turn in the season. People have been celebrating the solstice for thousands of years. Think of the Druids, ancient Celtic priests, holding solstice rituals focused on the natural world. They celebrated evergreen trees that held their color throughout the winter – a symbol of steadfastness amidst the coming chill. Holly and mistletoe were similarly symbols of everlasting life.

While many people focus on religious traditions at this time of year, it is interesting to note that they too are celebrations of light. There is the Star of Bethlehem and the belief in everlasting life and light, and the menorah whose light shined longer than was believed possible.

No matter your belief, light holds a strong meaning for all humans. It is truth versus secrecy; it is health versus sickness; it is productivity versus stagnation. So, our celebration of the increase of light is multifaceted, but provides a common connection.

To that end, there are two community gatherings at the solstice that celebrate this common connection. They both respect the quiet of the dark while also feting the growing of the light; quiet walks in the woods will be followed by songs, firelight and cocoa.

They are both taking place Dec. 21 – one in Harpswell at the Houghton Graves Park on Orr’s Island and the other at the labyrinth off Baribeau Drive in Brunswick. Both begin at 5 p.m., a good hour after sunset and last just until the start of full darkness at 6. And both are open to the public – people of all ages are welcome to attend.

The first is sponsored by Harpswell Heritage Land Trust in partnership with Harpswell Community PTO. People will walk along a short path through the woods ending at a bonfire gathering.

One of the joyful traditions of the solstice is the making of lanterns to light a path or gathering place in the darkness. HHLT has been working with the Harpswell Community School 4th and 5th grade classes, as well as the Harpswell Community Nursery School to create lanterns for children who will be celebrating tonight.

The second gathering is organized by Brunswick Topsham Land Trust. Here, community members will quietly walk the stone paths of the labyrinth, guided by the lights of their lanterns. BTLT held a lantern-making workshop at the Curtis Memorial Library last week.

Don’t by stymied if you don’t have a lantern at the ready. You can easily make your own from any number of designs. A few simple ideas can be found at www.hhltmaine.org. You can click on any of the photos for step-by-step instructions.

You’re certainly not required to show up with a lantern either, but it would be good to bring a light given how dark the night will be, and also to wear comfortable shoes for walking along uneven paths.

While the beginning of winter might at first seem ominous, remember that it is actually the beginning of a season of increasing light. And, whether you find the warmth of that light indoors or out, it is an opportunity to reflect upon the connection among people and between people and nature that light affords.

More information on both events can be found at www.hhltmaine.org or www.btlt.org. Space is limited for the HHLT event, so please contact Julia McLeod at [email protected] or 837-9613 to register in advance.