I know – it’s not officially winter – Mr. B keeps pointing that out to me. But it’s winter for all practical purposes.
One morning last week, the streets were so icy that I did a double doughnut when I turned left onto a side street. In 4-wheel drive. From a dead stop. Didn’t hit anything, just kept going once the car stopped pirouetting. Not that big a deal really, except that I’d never had that happen before in 20 years of living here! (By afternoon the streets were fine).
Sunday morning, when I started this post, the forecast shows a high of 13°F and 100% chance of snow – and it is indeed snowing as I write this. There is frost on the inside of the windows, where the steam from the constantly simmering teakettle has condensed. The radiators are doing a great job, though, and we’re quite comfortable within their borders. Sitting with a lapful of wool, a teacup by my side, and a cat curled up under the knitting is a most attractive prospect.
Winter is traditionally the time of withdrawal, focusing inward, resting and assimilating the year’s experiences. I feel the pull pretty strongly, but modern life tends to disallow such things as contemplation and rest. There is the constant push to operate at full capacity on as little sleep and other sustenance as we can manage. People talk about staying home when you’re sick, getting enough sleep, taking enough vacation and other down time … but practical support for any of it is pretty much nil. Everyone demands what they want of us at the time they want it, as long as they want it, and then scold us for not taking better care of ourselves.
And there are our own demands on ourselves, for ourselves. We do indeed want to further our careers or at least keep the rent and grocery money coming in, and there are few jobs which pay enough to live year ’round yet slow down or stop in winter. And there’s cooking, cleaning, unpacking boxes (oh wait, that’s just me). Schoolwork, and socializing, and shopping.
So I am going to take what downtime I can. Can’t meditate for an hour every morning? 20 minutes will do, whenever I can squeeze it in. Even 10. No sustained knitting time? I can do a row or two while my lunch heats in the microwave at work, in waiting rooms, at meetings (yes, I can do that, lucky me). I’ve decided to try to get in at least one tub bath every week, but also not to beat myself up if I can’t.
Socializing is important – I want to maintain and nurture my connections. How can I do that if I become a complete hermit? I can’t, that’s all there is to it, so I choose not to view the seasonal parties and get-togethers as wearisome obligations, but as chances to reconnect with and show my love for my friends who have been so good to me, and to enjoy their company.
For me, most gift-giving is part of that nurturing – tangible symbols of my love, affection, or even just liking of other people. I adore giving gifts, and I love receiving them. Obligation? Maybe a few, but not enough to turn me negative about it. Holiday shopping, even with crowds and lines, is usually very enjoyable for me. It’s least stressful when I go by myself, and I can focus on the people I’m buying for and enjoying the lights and music at my own pace.
(Not that I have any Christmas shopping done. Well, a bit, but not much).
And it’s an opportunity for giving in less tangible ways. When I smile at an overworked cashier and wish her well, I can see her relax just that little bit and that her day is a fraction more pleasant. When a sales clerk apologizes that I had to wait, I enjoy telling him that it’s quite all right, I understand how it is this time of year, and seeing his face lose a little of the stress underneath his pleasant “greet the customer” smile, and to see that smile become more genuine.
Whether you celebrate Christmas or Yule or Kwanzaa or Hanukkah, or something else altogether, to me it’s significant that in all traditions this is the season of giving and of Light, of love and the renewal of hope. We greet each other, we gift each other, we give to ourselves, we are grateful. It is a reminder that the darkness is not always our enemy – the quiet and dark is there for us to quiet ourselves, for memory, reflection, healing.
As anything, winter is what we make it. The wisest choice for you may be a foolish one for me, and what’s wise or foolish may change for each of us at any time. You make your choice not once, but infinitely, every moment of every day. You can change your choice whenever you like.
Here’s to illuminated winter nights, laughter with family and friends, hot baths and unlimited wool and alpaca for all.