I like the idea of the winter solstice. It always sounds so cozy, the dark of winter under the snow, before the sun returns to the world for the spring. This year’s solstice isn’t quite that cozy—it’s about 50º and rainy here in Chicago today.
This time of year, I always like to think about the winters I’ve spent in Europe. I remember is how cozy and warm the living room in Sweden felt with all the yellow light of the tree and the dark outside. I remember Jul Tomte coming on Christmas Eve and how my dad went out to get a newspaper and just missed his visit. :( Apparently this happens in many Swedish families, that the father has bad luck in seeing Jul Tomte’s visit to the house. I remember the huge piles of snow and how muted it was under the whitened pine branches outside. And inside, there was sitting at the kitchen table while the sky only turned pink with dawn when it was already midmorning.
From the time I lived in Germany, I remember the deep snow as I walked back to my apartment in the dark, with frosty breath and a few stars overhead. The Christmas market was bustling and everyone was excited out of doors, but indoors was quiet and peaceful and lit with warm light. There was an awareness of the darkness outside, a respect, in the soft voices of people catching up over coffee and cookies around the barely-lit kitchen table.
That contrast is what this time of year is all about for me.
The dark cold nights and glowing lights that made you aware of your body working to keep you warm, and the human heritage exposed through songs, the wonder of the christmas market full of little handmade treasures and tacky trinkets, and the dutiful performance of traditions like drinking Glühwein. The sense of how good it is to eat good food in a warm house in the glow of yellow light with the dark pressing in on the windows.
So more than any specific wintertime ritual, for me, this time of year is about the celebration and observation of wonder and heritage of tradition, the contrast of cold and dark with candlelight warmth, and the contrast of bustling human family with the peace of the den under the blanket of white. Observing how close we still are to the animals that hibernate under the snow and how small we still are in the face of winter. The centuries of people who have celebrated like us down through history.