100 Days of Darkness

Upon our arrival in the UK, our son’s school held a new parent session. It was very helpful and quickly put my mind at ease that a lot of what I’d been feeling during the early weeks of the move were totally normal.

One of the casual comments made during the session was about the “100 Days of Darkness”. I’ve been coming to the UK pretty regularly for 25+ years, but this was new to me. During Christmas visits in the past, I’ve noticed it was pretty much dark by 4:00pm. As a tourist, though, it’s something you just accept as a quirk of the place you are visiting and move on.

The “100 Days of Darkness” was defined as Halloween through Valentine’s Day. Turns out the lead up to Christmas wasn’t too bad. You have Guy Fawkes night in early November with giant bonfire celebrations. For Christmas, London does a spectacular job with thousands of festive lights decorating the streets of the city.

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Now, we are in the middle of January. As with most places in the northern hemisphere, January can be pretty grey and gloomy. Everyone tells me that this is crunch time during these days of darkness.  On one hand, I get it. With the sun hidden behind the clouds for days on end, it can get a bit depressing. When you don’t have a Christmas tree to light up your living room, twilight at 4:00 makes for a really long night.

But, there is also a subtle beauty to these days. The grey skies cast an Instagram-worthy filter across the beautiful landscapes. The structure of the trees without their leaves pop against the neutral sky. Tourists attractions are essentially empty. If you really want to explore a place, now is the time to go.

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There is one final upside. The sunny days literally make everything brighter. You appreciate the brilliance of the sunshine in a whole new way. Squinting at the golden orb in the sky is done with pleasure rather than annoyance. While it may be chilly, the brightness of the day makes you eager to be outside.

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So, overall, I’d say this first “100 Days of Darkness” isn’t as bad as I was expecting. That said, I will be happy to see the return of summer and 16 hours of daylight!

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When It’s Not Your Holiday

Sitting here in the U.K. on a wet, grey Monday in January, it’s just another day. Another start to a work week that contains the usual mental preparations for all that needs to be done in the days ahead. Without a day off of school, media news stories or commercial reminders, it’s easy to forget today is the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. In fact, if it weren’t for posts by friends on social media, it would be far too easy to not remember it at all.

This isn’t a commentary about the holiday itself. Dr. King’s life deserves every ounce of honor we can bestow upon him as a freedom fighter for racial and social justice. I’d highly recommend a post I read yesterday that eloquently sums up the struggle many Black Americans are feeling right now. Chelle Wilson’s words reminded me how, more than any point in my life, we desperately need Dr. King’s legacy. We are struggling to find a way towards building a more perfect – and equal – union and we need the great leaders of our past to guide us.

As a new expat, however, I wasn’t prepared for the empty feeling this left behind. It’s a stark reminder of how I’m not in my own country anymore. Most Brits seem to be well versed in American history and current events. I have no doubt the vast majority know who Martin Luther King is and his role in the American civil rights movement. But the reality is, this is not their fight and there is no need here for a holiday to commemorate Dr. King.

It’s also a reminder to choose how you honor your own country and its holidays and traditions when you don’t live there any more. Today, I’m going to take Chelle’s advice and listen to the stories Black Americans want to share about Martin Luther King. I’m also going to learn more about race relations here in the U.K. I want to understand how similar and different we are as two countries that have much in common.

In true British style, I think I’ll get started by making myself a cup of tea and settling in on this rainy afternoon.