The winter holidays are upon me; denial has proved useless. Whether my psyche is in a good place or not, they are here and the only way past them is through.
As is my way, I’m fighting the overstimulation and depression by searching for some personal meaning. Last year, in Nativity, I sought to identify with the iconic Christian birth scene in a new way. This year, my thoughts are traveling to a different time and place for perspective.
I’m imagining myself somewhere in northern Europe, sometime in the Dark or Middle Ages. I’m a peasant, dwelling in a hut and scraping a living from the land the local nobles allow me to farm.
And winter sucks. There’s no denying it. It fucking sucks.
Winter means I’m usually confined in a small, inadequately ventilated place, stuck in close quarters with screaming babies and everyone else.
Winter means there’s probably less to eat than usual.
Winter means what there is to eat is even more monotonous than it is the rest of the year.
Winter means my loved ones and I are more likely to get sick, a potentially lethal thing here and now.
Winter means that when I do get outside, it’s gray and dull and cold.
Winter means that when I’m not working I am bored, bored, bored.
Winter means dark.
Winter means no colors.
But sometime during winter, there’s a holiday or a series of holidays. If Christianity has come to my region, it’s Christian holidays, substituting for and probably adapted from older ones. People bring branches and berries inside, providing a spot of color. People play games or have ceremonies or just get together. Maybe we make a special trip to a bigger church and marvel at the intense hues of a stained glass window.
People make special foods, sweet and complex foods I only get to taste once or twice a year. There’s an old Christmas dish called frumenty, made simply from finely hulled wheat and a sugar loaf. Sugar, any sugar, is a rare and luxurious treat.
The purpose of having a holiday in midwinter, whatever the current rituals attached might be, is ultimately simple and practical. It’s meant to provide a small amount of pleasure in order to keep me from going batshit crazy between now and the release of spring. It’s meant to give hope; a sense of rhythm or renewal.
The things that make it special do so because they are rare; they are things I can’t have on a daily basis.
Now I come back to the present, and look around at holiday activities in my area of the world. What do I see? People are traveling to see loved ones; that’s good, and rare if this is the only vacation they get. But the rest? Shopping–well, we are surrounded by stores; we can do that any time. Eating–well, if we are lucky enough not to have difficulty buying food, we can make sweet and tasty dishes at any time. Decorating–fun for some, but we already live in a world of color and light inconceivable to past centuries.
Though some of us are prone to seasonal depression, First World dwellers like me just don’t experience the kind of deprivations that used to come with winter. I can usually go where I please, eat fruits and vegetables and enliven long nights with all sorts of entertainment.
I’m grateful for this, but gratitude isn’t my main reason for thinking about these things. I’m thinking them because I’d like to find something special for myself in these winter holidays; something that will give me pleasure.
So I’m thinking that what gave pleasure in the past were the rare things. What’s rare for us these days? And could I give myself some of it to help me get through this time?
Maybe I could celebrate with a day of silence, or a silent retreat. Mmmmm.
Maybe I could celebrate by unplugging from all technology for a few days.
Maybe I could celebrate by doing some obscure but interesting type of crafts.
Maybe I could celebrate by going to a clothing-optional resort, reciting poetry in public, getting a new tattoo…the possibilities are endless.