…or The Importance Of Mid-Winter Festivals In Countries Not Near The Equator
I live in England, which means that come Autumn darkness slides into to my life, the daylight hours shortening with each passing day. I know it’s not as extreme as some other countries but in midwinter it will be dark at 8am and at 4pm.
Nowadays the start of Autumn feels like a trap closing in. It’s as if some devious thief is stealing my sunshine, draining the energy from my life. The rest of the natural world responds, mainly, in a sensible manner… going to sleep, but we humans carry on. Our environment will not constrain us!
When I was younger the arrival of shorter days never seemed to bother me. What I remember most from those dark nights was solely the change in environment when playing in the evening. In Summer we were out in the street with the other kids, come Winter we were inside, me and my brother inventing games to play in the house to keep us amused.
However, there is a glimmer of hope… there in mid-winter, beyond Bonfire Night, deep in the darkness there was always Christmas. Christmas meant decorations, lights, family, presents! It meant school plays and Christmas parties. It meant a couple of weeks off school. It meant a huge family meal then watching a film on television and then playing a boardgame. It was the beacon in the middle of the darkness.
These days I realise the importance of Christmas, not as a religious festival, but as a mid-Winter festival. To me it’s a celebration of the Winter solstice. A celebration of making it half way through the darkness (as The Doctor once said). It is a clever social construct providing us a focus and a hook to pull us through the Autumn, a long ago learned psychological trick. It’s no surprise that a lot of cultures have a festival some time around mid-winter, I think we need it.
After Winter, despite January and February usually being the coldest months in England, everything seems a little bit easier. The days get longer, the nights shrink away. Spring is coming and nothing can stop it. I visualise it as rolling down the other side of a hill, racing towards the summer months and dreamy long days of sunshine and happiness. Of course, the reality of Summer in England is another story…