If you ask me, the first day of winter doesn’t fall on the Solstice. Rather, it comes on the first Monday after Daylight Saving time ends, when you look up from your desk at 5:00 and it’s dark out—that moment you realize that you’re not going to see much of the sun until March, except on the weekends. You’ve become the sun’s non-custodial parent, and it’s not a happy thought.
No one I know likes the time change, even with that extra hour that comes in the bargain. I hate it marginally less for the extra bit of light in the morning—I like a good sunrise as much as anyone, but walking my dog through the pitch-black Bronx at 6 a.m. can be creepy. Still, those truncated days are hard to love.
But hey, if someone wants to try and tell me otherwise, I’ll listen. I’ve read some lovely odes to the turning inward that comes with an early nightfall, notably Jeanette Winterson’s 2009 piece in the Guardian on why she appreciates the early dark, a very nice meditation on how the rhythms of the short days can bring about a sense of quiet, of closeness.
City or country, that sundown hour is strange and exhilarating, as ordinary spatial relations are altered: trees rear up in their own shadows, buildings bulk out, pavements stretch forward, the red wrapper of brake lights turns a road into a lava flow.
Inside, the lights are going on. Outside, it’s getting dark. You, as a dark shape in a darkening world, want to hold that intimacy, just for one night. Go home. Leave the lights off.
Winterson suggests we roll with it: Light some candles, start a fire in the fireplace, eat root vegetables, make love as soon as the light begins to fail, go to bed early. And while I’d like to be open to such a kind acceptance of circadian fluctuations, I worry that I might be too cynical. I don’t even know anyone with a fireplace. And for those of us who work outside the house for a living, afternoon sex isn’t an option (or if it is, I don’t want to hear about it).
The last time I let the natural rhythms of the shorter day win was exactly three years ago, when we had no heat or electricity in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. But that was less a gentle acquiescence than being knocked down and pinned to the mat—sure, there were some romantic, candlelit, pile-the-quilts-on-the-bed aspects. But those six days were also anxious, inconvenient, and cold.
Maybe voluntary acceptance is the way to go, though. I trust Jeanette Winterson on the subject of love diverted, and I’m always interested in choosing mindfulness over, say, wallowing in self-pity. And I like beets. Front-load my day, get less done after dinner, turn off the overhead lights, go to bed earlier. Maybe this will be the year I read The Greenlanders. It’s worth a shot. And I suppose it wouldn’t hurt for us all to keep Winterson’s words in mind over the next few months:
I believe in pleasure—but not the same pleasure all the time. Seasonal pleasure prevents boredom and cynicism.
Because really, why curse the darkness when I can save my energy for bitching about the snow?
(Painting is “Her first place” by George Dunlop Leslie, Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.)