The Darkest Night of the Year

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by Unsettling Wonder

Candles Burning in Dark Church

With the longest, darkest night of the year upon us, we wish you the joy of it. There’s a reason, I think, that so many cultures celebrate these nights—why such a cold, dark time is full of lights and laughter and merriment. It’s a reminder, in a way, that no matter how long the winter, spring slowly, inevitably, follows. A strong and needful reminder for this year, I think.

Thanks to all our readers for your curiosity and love of folkore and the mythic world. Whether you just celebrated Chanukah or are about to celebrate Christmas, whether you’re looking eagerly forward to Spring Festival or fondly back toward Eid, whether you keep Solstice or any other holiday, or just like any excuse to enjoy life, we wish you all and every joy of winter.

We’ll be back in 2016 with more folktales and blog posts and a few thrilling new publications. Meanwhile, here’s a Dagur origin story about the first snow. Like many such tales, somehow a woman’s to blame, but at least this version of the Fall is a delightfully cheeky offence. More importantly, notice the shift in people’s interaction with the natural world—how the coming of snow and winter teaches a profound respect for the earth and gratitude for what grows in it.

flour mist

The Origin of Snow and Rain

At the time of the world’s beginning, people dared not raise their heads for if they did, they bumped against the sky. People lived comfortably and earth was prosperous. The seasons changed in order with never a mistake. Animals were man’s friends. People lived happily and didn’t have to work. Wheat flour and cooking oil were given by Endur, and were plentiful, for it snowed wheat flour and rained cooking oil. But in time, women increasingly wasted them. One time, Endur saw a woman mix flour with oil, roll out a thin slice, wipe her baby’s dirty bottom with it, and then throw it away. It struck Endur in the face. He was enraged and thought, “Man is too comfortable. If people continue to live like this, they will become evil. I must give them some hardship.” Then he flew upwards, and the sky become very high, like today. Since that time, wheat flour and oil have never fallen from the sky, only rain and snow. People suffered from Endur’s punishment and had nothing to eat. They had to work, and learn how to cultivate land. Afterwards, they cherished grain.

Told by Qiker, translated by Yan Zheng.

From: Kevin Stuart, Li Xuewei, and Shelear, eds. China’s Dagur Minority: Society, Shaminism, and Folklore, Sino-Platonic Papers 60 (Philadelphia,: University of Pennsylvania, 1994), p. 91. http://www.sino-platonic.org/complete/spp060_dagur_folklore.pdf. Available under a Creative Commons license.

December 21, 2015


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Unsettling Wonder

We craft and tell stories because we’ve stood on the uncertain edge between the waking world and our imagination, between enchantment and fear. And we remember other stories that help us build our own stories, scraps of lumber and fragments of narrative we gather together to make stories for ourselves.

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Artwork by Laura Rae