Stealthily, I crept over to the cedar tree down the street and snipped a few trimmings. I wondered if the neighbors noticed. They didn’t strike me as the sort of people to yell at me for taking a few sprigs off a large tree, but you never know. Then I continued my creep through the shadows of the early evening and collected a few snippets from the holly tree across the street. If those neighbors saw, they didn’t bother to chastise me. Instead, they probably named me The Crazy Tree Trimming Lady. Unbeknownst to them, there was a method to my madness: I was giving the winter blues the slip.
Every year when the days grow short, a whisper of anxiousness nags at me. The pretty golden sunsets of winter become a sad thing. A cloudy day in summer is no big deal, but a cloudy day in winter is dreary and miserable. My body just does not like reduced daylight hours. The season of winter had become a depressing event.
Regardless of the implications of melatonin, winter represents a drearier time in life. Short days and cold weather bring an end to the high energy activities of the warmer months. It also represents death in many ways, and that is something no one enjoys dwelling on. It is a time of slowing down and turning inward, which is something I’ve never been too great at. About two years ago I realized, like so often in life, the solution was simply the opposite of the problem. So you hate winter? Then celebrate it!
The Cozy Turn Inward
The first way I celebrate winter is by consciously noticing the rhythms of nature that are happening right outside. The shortest day of the year is the winter solstice, which falls on December 21st this year. Starting December 22nd, those daylight hours begin to slowly climb back up, increasing until the summer solstice the following June. This time of year the plants have turned their energy to their roots, and so should we. I make a point every December of beginning a new project or the study of a new subject for a little bit every night, focusing some of my energy on internal improvement. When I curl up on the couch in the gold light of the lamp, I suddenly feel cozy and snug, instead of dreary.
Evergreens and the Gold China
Now, let’s get back to trimming those evergreens from around the neighborhood. In early December I make a point of decorating for the winter solstice. Mind you, this is separate from Christmas decorations. I love Christmas and all its activities, but decorating for the solstice is an act of intentionally recognizing the change in the world outside. I bring in bits and pieces of juniper boughs with their funny blueberries, the cheery red of holly berries and their deep green leaves, and bits of pine. I interweave them around the dining room table into a wild centerpiece. If I’m lucky, a bit of mistletoe falls to the ground in time to be strung back up inside. Then, right before the solstice, I pull out the gold-trimmed china, because this is a celebration.
The Mindfulness of Preparation
For the grand winter solstice celebration, I invite all my close friends to join us for the evening. Almost all of us have little kids, so my children and I spend a week beforehand coming up with winter-themed activities. We have a few traditions now, one of which is to freeze a massive block of ice with lots of random wintry trinkets within it and provide several squeeze bottles for the children to slowly, slowly, slowly melt it and rescue their treasures.
The act of preparing these activities keeps the mind focused on the topic at hand—embracing the wintry changes.
The Grand Celebration
Then, we party. My dining room buffet becomes spread with a potluck dinner, and the gold trimmed china turns from beautiful order to the chaos of supper well enjoyed. This generally takes place while the children are still melting the ice.
Last, but not least, we get a bonfire going in the backyard. Someone goes outside to find a sizeable pinecone because it never fails that I forget to find one in advance—every single year. All the adults write a wish on slips of paper, roll them up, and insert them within the tines of the pinecone. The tricky part is that the wish must be something that does not in any way benefit the person making it, which is surprisingly tricky. Once the cone is ready, we toss it into the fire. Sometimes, the kids are still melting the ice. That block of ice is brilliant. Afterward, we get out the s’mores supplies.
The Morning After
And then, come morning I wake up with my hair smelling like a campfire. Marshmallow is sticky on the back porch, dried soup remains cling to gold-trimmed china scattered around the dining room, and toys are still strewn about the living room floor. I smile at it all and think to myself: The shortest day of the year has passed. It’s only up from here.