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The Darkest Day

The winter solstice occurs on Monday 21 December 2020

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To encourage us to consider strategies for lifting ourselves out of a pessimistic frame of mind.

Preparation and materials

  • Have available the song ‘The only way is up’ by Yazz and the means to play it during the ‘Time for reflection’ part of the assembly. It is available at: (4 minutes long)
  • Familiarize yourself with the school’s counselling structures so that you can share the information with the students.
  • Optional: for Strategy 4 in the ‘Time for reflection’ part of the assembly, you may wish to ask a reader to read the words spoken by Jesus in John 8.12: ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’


  1. Monday 21 December is the shortest day of the year. There will be less than eight hours of daylight; that’s not even half the amount of daylight we enjoyed in June, on the longest day. For two-thirds of this 24-hour period, we shall be in darkness. Thank goodness we have electric lights!

  2. Ask the students if any of them have ever experienced being somewhere in total darkness, where there was not even a hint of light.

    If possible, engage the students in relating their experiences, encouraging them to describe how total darkness made them feel. You may wish to allow them to explore this by discussion in groups.

    (Expect their comments to involve largely negative emotions such as confusion, anger, sadness and helplessness, although they may mention some positive aspects, too.)

  3. Point out that darkness can often enhance feelings of sadness or fear. For some people, thinking about the shortest day can make them feel sad: summer is well and truly over!

    Sometimes, when the days get shorter and there is less sun, things like hormones, physical developments, exam stress, peer pressure, the injustice of life and so on can feel even more difficult.

  4. On top of that, 2020 has been a particularly tough year for everyone. The longer nights, colder weather and lack of sun may make us all feel even more miserable! However, rather than getting down about it, let’s ask the question, ‘What can we do about it?’

  5. So, what can we do? How can we turn on the light? In many cultures, there are traditions connected to the shortest day. Most of these involve the lighting of bonfires, beacons and torches - anything to chase away the darkness and its associated feelings of pessimism, depression, uncertainty and fear. Sadly, no bonfires are allowed in school, so let’s explore some other strategies.

Time for reflection

Strategy 1: Find some uplifting music.

Play ‘The only way is up’ by Yazz for about 1 minute.

This could easily segue into . . .

Strategy 2: Do some physical activity.

Some of us are starting to dance or move about a bit on our seats, or at least tap our feet! That’s good because physical activity can help to lift the emotions. It might be a gym workout, a run, some yoga or a dance class, but whatever we choose, the activity increases the level of endorphins (known as happy hormones) in our bloodstream. It’s even more beneficial if it’s done outside in the fresh air.

Strategy 3: Make connections.

Don’t be alone. Phone a friend or pop round to see someone who lives nearby. It’s good to talk. It helps to put our darkest thoughts into perspective.

Strategy 4: Consider the words of Jesus: ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’

What might this mean to Christians? Does it have anything to offer those who are not Christians?

Strategy 5: Get creative.

Let’s try to express our thoughts and feelings in some concrete way. By using some form of expression that we can return to at a later stage, we can discover how much the light has come into what was darkness. We could do this by drawing a picture or symbol, composing a song, writing a poem or creating a playlist of music to lift the darkness.

And let’s all remember to make sure that our list is achievable: there’s no need to do everything at once.


‘10,000 reasons’ by Matt Redman, available at: (5.42 minutes long)

‘The only way is up’ by Yazz, available at: (4 minutes long)

Publication date: December 2020   (Vol.22 No.12)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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