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When December rolls around, those of us who haven’t lived here long enough to completely acclimate are often surprised, sometimes depressed, by how DARK it can get. By four in the afternoon, it can feel as if the whole world is going down for a long sleep. Rip Van Winkle may have lived in a place like this.

Middlebury is nearly 4 degrees closer to the North Pole than my hometown of Brooklyn, which means that Middlebury’s winter nights are longer than Brooklyn’s. On December 21, the winter solstice and longest night of the year, the sun will set here at 4:18 p.m., and it will set in Brooklyn at 4:32.

But I don’t think those 14 fewer minutes of daylight account for the gloominess that seems to descend over Middlebury in the dim afternoons. Another force of nature adds to the phenomenon: the Champlain Valley is one of the cloudiest places in the U.S., with Burlington receiving only 159 days of sun a year. These two things—murky, overcast skies and quickly descending nights—combine to create a very challenging experience.

That’s where the lights come in. If the nights feel deep and lonely, the glorious lights that blanket trees, glitter in windows, and turn sidewalks into magic do the opposite. They offer a playful tonic against the doldrums and signify hope and human ingenuity. Without the darkness, we would not be able to enjoy the lights. So, this year, I’m giving thanks to the dark.

I’d like to wish you all a very happy winter break, safe travels, and a multitude of lights.

See you next semester.

—Shirley M. Collado

 

 

 

 

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