This week has seen the temperature drop to more than twenty below zero. While some –many – areas of the country are enjoying the promise and excitement of the first snow, entering into that hovering in-between month of November and others I am sure will not see their first hard frost for a month or more, we are well into winter. I grew up in New England, where the seasons and the months followed the kindergarten pictures fairly closely. Spring was ushered in with grey puffy rainclouds and mud boots in March, with tulips and pasque flowers in April, with flowers galore in May. October was a riot of gold and red and orange. November was chilly and wet and grey. December saw snow and decorated trees, and January was always painted in light blues and whites with crystalline snowflakes. I'm sure you know the pictures I mean. Living now in the subarctic, I find that living a seasonal life shakes out just a little different. It is the first week of November and already my seasonal/mindfulness display table with its candles between the dining room and the kitchen is covered in cloths of light blue and white, with blue and white patterned origami snow cranes. That's the "January" of the kindergarten pictures.
Our fall this year was long and lovely. We had a week of "September" weather, with tall grasses going to seed, sunny days and cool evenings, and the merest hint of gold in the leaves. Then we had a week or a little more of the bright bright gold of an Interior "October" followed by two weeks of "November" with cold rain and overcast skies. By the middle of October, the temperature hovered between five below and twenty above, and there was a coat of snow on the ground.
Now, sitting by the warm fire with a mug of spicy mulled wine, I realize that it is no wonder that I feel the pull of the winter celebrations so strongly – I am a month into true winter dark already. We are losing more than eight minutes of daylight each day, as we draw slowly closer to the Solstice. The holidays are 'supposed' to start a month or a little more into wintertime. A fellow Fairbanksan blogging friend confessed that she has been listening to Christmas music ever since Halloween. I too, have been cueing holiday stations on Pandora or Spotify when I am alone, and poring over pictures and thoughts of holiday crafts and baking and decorating and gifting. I have always been slightly horrified by the store displays that pull out the Fourth of July the day after Easter and Christmas even before Thanksgiving has come. I still am, a bit. It is blatant over-commercialization. But in this particular instance, in this particular clime, for this particular holiday, it makes sense. I was waiting and hoping for the holiday displays to begin even before they did. And I feel a little impatient for the weekend after Thanksgiving to arrive so that I can pull out the box of decorations and convince the Darlin' Man to help me pick out a tree.
I think about the psycho-social origins of winter holidays in the Northern lands. They were based around the Solstice of course, celebrating the return of the light even before Christianity had left its birthplace in the Middle East. Whether you celebrate the days getting longer or the birth of your savior, the last days of our calendar's December are a time of hope and renewal, even in the depths of the winter hibernation. Many of the traditions we think of are about this renewal or rebirth. But many of them – the mulled wine or cider, the cookies, the warming spices of ginger and cinnamon and clove, the firelight, the family, welcome wreaths, even the gifting – are also about the drawing-in and the gathering-around of the winter season. The weather out of doors is inhospitable at best, so we create our own warmth within. We gather with loved ones to eat and to tell stories. Most holiday decorations have meanings associated with the religious and spiritual significance of the holidays, from the colors to the evergreens to the stars, but also by decorating the space that we live in, where we retreat to away from the winter cold, where we gather with loved ones we make that space –our home- inviting and welcoming. We allow it to be a space of retreat and respite, a place where spirits are lifted.
Which is all a fancy and very long-winded way of saying that this year I shan't be ashamed of my intense enjoyment, and early commencement of the winter season.