I live in Canada. Winter is cold, and there’s a lot of dark. Sometimes the days are brilliant—shining, blue skies, the cold white eye of the sun, and everything glitters like the inside of a diamond. Often these are the days when the cold steals your breath, making you cough, where it knifes through your thighs as you walk, bores a hole between your eyes were even the warmest scarf can’t cover.
Then there are the white days, the prairies’ special trick, where the sky is white, the land is white, and the horizon becomes only a guess. Everything is a middling, dull-white shade. It does not glitter, just fades slowly into night.
The nights are long. You rise in darkness, running from blankets to robe to sweaters as quickly as possible. Often it’s dark again by the time you leave work. Entire work weeks can pass in darkness. Months pass without feeling the sun’s warmth on your cheeks.
There are blizzards, confections of wind and snow to make you stare in awe. Cars creep hesitantly along the roads, snowflakes whirling like unsteady stars, hiding everything: the road’s edge, the lane markings, the oncoming traffic. You stock your car: blankets, candles, chocolate bars. The danger is not so much going off the road. It’s going off the road, too far from help, where you’ll sit in your idling car until the fuel runs out and then the cold seeps in, and you either wait for it or walk for it. That’s when people die. Blizzards are the moments when you bow your head and admit defeat; allow nature her supremacy, and stay home, preferably with a fire and hot chocolate, and tell the story of the farmer who lost his way in a blizzard going from house to barn, and how long it was before they found his frozen body.
I don’t love the cold. I don’t love winter. I don’t love the prison our houses become, the prison our clothes become, layers piled on layers, constricting and restrictive. I don’t do many of the fun things that make winter worthwhile up here—I don’t skate, play hockey, ski or snowboard.
But I do love the holidays. I love taking a few moments, here at the blackest end of the year, to enjoy the people around me. I love the convergence of roads that lets me see my relatives in wild, energetic bouts, all at once, rather than one or two at a time. I love the food, the lights, the decorations.
I love turkey with cranberry sauce.
And I love knowing that, after today, no matter how cold the weather or how majestic the storms, the days will be getting longer, and sooner or later the ground will soften, the snow will melt, and spring will be here.
Happy Solstice, everyone! I hope your holidays are full of family, friends, and togetherness—and if not, then I hope they’re at least filled with other things that make you happy.
(photographs of an abandoned shack at my grandmother’s farm)