Advent Calendar

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper and Carson Ellis

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“So the Shortest Day came

and the year died”

This is a picture book rebirth of a 1974 poem originally written by Dark is Rising author Susan Cooper for the annual Christmas Revel shows, a fusion of medieval and modern music and poetry.

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“And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world

Came people singing, dancing,

To drive the dark away.”

Usually performed with gusto in front of an audience, here illustrator Carson Ellis tells the story through spectacular Bruegel inspired landscapes. She takes us back to an ancient farming community where hunters flee the dying light and villagers gather sticks for fires to see them through the long night of the shortest day.

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“They lighted candles in the winter trees;

They hung their homes with evergreen;

They burned beseeching fires all night long

To keep the year alive.”

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The hours of deepest darkness are best passed in company, and as strange spirits fill the night sky, people join hands and dance in rituals to ensure light would return once again.

“Through all the frosty ages you can hear them

Echoing behind us — listen!”

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Carson Ellis brilliantly segues from ancient to modern through a joining of hands that links us to three children racing home.

The sun returns. Where previously it was attached to a tired, hunched figure, here it burns even more intently, rays vivid red and dancing.

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“This shortest day,

As promise wakens in the sleeping land:

They carol, feast, give thanks,

And dearly love their friends”

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A joyful message of peace and togetherness, the reappearance of this miraculous poem in a transcendent new form, the Shortest Day is a much needed tonic as we prepare for more dark days ahead.

“And hope for peace.

And now so do we, here, now,

This year and every year.”

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The Shortest Day is published by Walker Books