The other day I was driving home around 5 p.m., listening to the radio, and the guys who run the blues show I listen to at that time were lamenting the gloomy dark of winter. One of them suggested that people get mood lights to help keep up their spirits. Kind of ironic, guys who spend their time playing blues songs worrying about whether people are depressed. His partner noted that it was only a few weeks until things turn around: he was guessing December 23 as the date when the days begin to lengthen again.
He was close. The winter solstice is on December 22 this year, at 5:30 a.m. The day varies from year to year, between the 21st and 23rd in the northern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere, it happens between the 20th and 23rd. The solstice is not only the point when days start to lengthen–it’s the official beginning of the winter season. Funny that we have lived through the darkest gloom of the season before the season ‘officially’ starts. But there has always been a disagreement between the astronomical concept of seasons and our cultural definitions.
Just a few days prior to this, I had been working out in the early morning. It was early enough to still be dark, and it would still be dark for another hour at least. I thought fondly of the days of late spring and summer when sunlight streams through the windows while I am stretching and rowing and lifting. And this troubled me. We have a lot of ways that we wish away portions of our lives. We wish the cold and dark days of winter were gone and then, once it’s hot, we wish the heat of summer was past. We’ve all found ourselves standing in shirtsleeves on a sunny, temperate day of spring or fall and saying I could take this weather all the time–or some variation on that theme.
What I would urge people to do is to live all the seasons of their lives. Find what it is about winter that you love. Yes, there are the holidays of December to keep us occupied, but once they are past we still have January and February to get through. In many areas, March is still a winter month, if not April. My birthday is March 7, and I have seen it come as a beautiful spring day and a winter day deep in snow. I think our lives are enriched by finding what there is to love about these weeks of cold and snow: the long, cold nights when you read mysteries by Swedish authors; an evening spent with the kids playing board games in front of the fire; sharing a moment over hot cocoa or herb tea with your spouse. Then there’s the wide variety of winter sports–or maybe just dressing warmly and taking a walk through a local park. They don’t close the parks just because it’s cold out, and there is still much of beauty to observe in wintry landscapes. Stargazing is best at this time of year, when clear, crisp nights are lit with millions of twinkling lights.
Our lives transpire in the seasons, all of them, and wishing them away by pining for the glories of the season to come is not good for the spirit; we can only enrich our lives by learning to appreciate every time of the year, and yes, that includes the ‘bleak midwinter.’