Winter Solstice and the Doldrums

Hello, dear readers. It's December 21st, officially the longest night (or shortest day) of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. As with so many other denizens of this planet, current and past, I mark this day strongly in my personal calendar. In my head, as autumn closes and it gets harder to be motivated to do things, I keep track of how close we are to the solstice. Because it always feels to me, after Christmas has passed, that January and February seem unduly long. It's a long, dark, cold plain. But I remind myself of this: the solstice has passed. The days ARE getting longer, even if it doesn't feel like it. We turn our faces, so slowly, back to the sun.

It used to bother me a lot more, to have so much time in the darkness and cold. Now I try to embrace it; "embrace every season" is a phrase I say to myself quite a bit, and in a variety of applications. But I started saying it for winter.

No matter how positive I try to make my attitude, the lack of sunlight still does get me down at some point. But I don't mind it nearly as much as I did ten years ago. And this is what I try to do to embrace the winter.

I fully throw myself into my Christmas preparations, especially since I have two very small children. I make cookies, send out cards, make gifts, sing the songs, watch the movies, and eat all the comfort foods. After all, they are named that for a reason. We've been celebrating the solstice season the same way for thousands of years here in the northern reaches of the planet: feasts, company, wearing the little bits of green and red we can find in the grays and browns of winter.

But I don't stop there. Because I think that's a trap I used to fall into. I'd enjoy the heck out of Christmas; even as a kid. My parents were amazing at making Christmas magical for us kids, and I feel safe in saying that feeling hasn't left us as adults. But I used to get to January 2 and think, "now what?" All that society tells us we have to look forward to then is the inevitable disappointment of making and breaking New Year's resolutions. Heck, no wonder we get so sad at this point! So, I've thrown the resolutions out the window. 

But I have accepted that I'm really not going to hold myself to a high standard between Thanksgiving and New Years on many goals. I'm not going to exercise as much as normal, I'm going to indulge more than I should in delicious sugary and unhealthy treats (and more than a couple libations), and I'm going to buy some presents for myself while I buy presents for others. And I'm not going to have resolutions for the New Year. But I DO recognize that I am cyclical, just like the length of days and nights on this planet, and I embrace that. I allow myself to go into what I think of as "hibernation" mode during this time. I rest more, I'm easier on myself, and I let more of my defenses down and let a bit more gentleness out. But this is all in recognition that after the days start to get longer, so will my own personal regimen.

As the year begins, I recognize that I can't keep my own personal December soma holiday going. Slowly, I start working on myself again. I don't tie it to one day, but I know that it feels right within the first couple weeks of the year. I realize that I can't eat treats as much, I make myself move more again. And I start to work on welcoming the sun back into my life. It feels healthy to me this way. Even though the days are cold, I do keep the cozy feeling going. I've taken pages from the Norwegian book on this, and I embrace the idea of "koselig" (which basically means coziness). In the evenings I light candles and make warm teas and drinks. I invite people over to chat even though it's dark and cold. I make warm food, but less cookies. I have come to embrace the idea of "there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear", and so I dress my children and I warmly and we go enjoy the fact that we don't have to worry about sunstroke or mosquitoes or ticks. I even enjoy shoveling snow (for a while, at least).

So many people in the US find it so hard to shake off the doldrums in the winter months. I understand that; I've struggled with it too. But adapting my behavior to embrace the negatives and find the positives within them, has made winter something I look forward to now. And here's the thing about "the doldrums". That term is a nautical one that has become part of the common lexicon. The doldrums are areas in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans that are usually areas of low pressure. As such, for hundreds of miles, there is barely any wind. That's not a big deal now, because of course we don't depend on wind for most ship transport. But when sailing was nearly the only way to travel, hitting the doldrums was a big deal. You'd be becalmed for potentially weeks, working through rations, sitting bored in still heat. Most likely on a ship with at least one person you couldn't stand (let's be honest here). So no one looked forward to it, but eventually, they DO end. And the same is true of our winter doldrums. Make a plan, embrace the potential suck, and realize that this too shall pass. And soon enough you'll get more sunlight, so then you should embrace that, and move your body and love the breeze. But for now, embrace the warm cuddly silence of winter, let yourself relax a bit, and remember that the doldrums end.