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Let There Be Light

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The dark nights are upon us, but there's always room for warmth and light.

The clocks have 'gone back', the British ritual of losing an hour at the end of October, bringing darker mornings and a clear sense that winter is just around the corner.

While this time-altering tradition is a relatively modern one, formally introduced in 1972, other far older conventions once defined this moment in our island year.

In the pre-Christian Celtic calendar, the beginning of November brought the celebrations of Samhain (SAH-win), marking the end of harvest time and the arrival of the darker half of the year.

Samhain was the most significant of the four quarterly fire festivals of old Gaelic culture, taking place at the midpoint between the fall equinox and the winter solstice.

Firestack Dusk, Low Tide. Outer Hebrides, Autumn 2016. Image © artist Julie Brook.

Firestack, High Tide. Outer Hebrides. Autumn 2016. Image © artist Julie Brook.

During this time, hearth fires in homes were left to burn out while families gathered in the harvest to see them through the harder months ahead.

After their harvest work was complete, the people would gather together to light a community bonfire. They’d then take a flame from the communal blaze back to their home to relight their fire anew.

There was often several days of eating and drinking too, and it was a time full of rituals, supernatural stories and superstition, similar to the Halloween we know and love today.

This year's prize-winning pumpkin by Ponty Drummond

The pumpkin has replaced the traditional turnip as a Halloween lantern here in Harris.

The connection to light continues today, as we carve turnips and pumpkins and place a candle inside to create fragrant lanterns to help keep the spooks and spirits at bay.

But, big bonfires in Harris are more likely to be found on November 5th as part of the annual Guy Fawkes Night celebrations, complete with a community firework display.

The shorter days also mean long dark nights and the promise of the Aurora Borealis. Their name is well earned in Gaelic as ‘Na Fir Chlis’ or ‘The Merry Dancers’.

Over the coming months, the sky above will churn with seaweed ribbons of glorious green and red, a ceilidh of quantum physics, electrons dancing in the blackhouse dark.

The 'Fir Chlis', dancing merrily above our cask warehouse at Ardhasaig.

Aurora above the crofts, Outer Hebrides. Image © Sandie MacIver

And, we’re not the only community enjoying this time of year as others far from our shores usher in Diwali, a festival of new beginnings and the triumph of good over evil.

The glow of oil lamps will bring warmth and happiness to millions of Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains worldwide over the coming days, and we wish them the happiest of celebrations.

From these islands to India and all points in between, we hope you too can take a moment to mark this time of year as the seasons turn. Even a simple, secular candle will suffice, just strike a match, add your spark, and let there be light...

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