Today is the December Solstice. South of the Equator it is the Summer Solstice and North of the Equator it is the Winter Solstice. In many cultures, this is officially the time we are told to begin observing the two seasons.
Actually, the Earth does not obey our calendars nor the keepers of our traditions. The seasons ebb and flow much more gradually.
When I was a child, I was disappointed that Mother Nature did not turn a switch to begin the seasons on the official first days of each season. This discovery, came about in grade school science when our class learned about the Solar System and specifically about the motion of our home planet around the Sun.
Our seasons were arbitrarily defined and assigned by our ancestors. One needs only to study the cultures of aboriginal peoples from various regions. Some of us wonder why there are only four or why there are so many as four. Of course we observe the cultural definitions of the seasons out of convention and convenience.
Personally, I experience two seasons, the warming and the cooling. Their limits are the Solstices while their beginnings and ends are at the Equinoxes. To me winter begins when weather conditions look and feel wintry.
This year, winter in Nebraska began late. Two weeks ago, the prevailing Canadian cold seemed to settle in and we witnessed the first measurable snowfalls in much of the area. That was when it was seriously time to have warm coats and gloves ready to wear.
Once upon a time, the Solstices meant mid-seasons. At these times, the warm and the cold are at their middle points. In traditional cultures, the Winter Solstice indicates mid-winter, not the beginning of winter. This definition seems more logical.
We creatures and our plant companions are more active or awakened in the warm season and we slow down or even hibernate in the cold season. We who occupy the Northern Hemisphere are currently in our season of rest and recovery as we witness the gradual arrival of the next equinox.
An understandable but sad fact is that many people hate wintertime. The recurring warm and cold bring us variety and strength. As we adjust to varying degrees of heat and cold, our bodies and minds become stronger. Yet we spend much energy vainly wishing the climate cycle away.
Conservationist/naturalist John Burroughs once wrote, “He who marvels at the beauty of the world in summer will find equal cause for wonder and admiration in winter.”
Those of us who live in places that have “real winters” expect frigid cold, biting winds, and deep snows. We know that these conditions can quickly kill us if we do not treat them with respect and fail to properly prepare to encounter them.
It is in the depths of extreme wintry conditions that we more fully appreciate the warm artifacts that we collect and use. The blissful aromas of spruce, cinnamon, nutmeg, and gingerbread are most pleasing within the context of winter and not in summer.
Simple mac and cheese is just OK in the summery season. However, it is most delicious when prepared as a rich casserole that is baked to perfection and served with other piping hot food and drink during wintertime.
One of the most satisfying ways to love our time on Earth is to contemplate falling snow while cradling a hot mug of cocoa.
If it wasn’t for the fact of winter, would we have invented beautiful, plush sweaters and fashionable coats?
I feel a twinge of sadness that so many of the world’s children will never experience the pleasure of constructing a snow fort, nor feel the raw joy of a snowball fight.
There is the beauty of your footsteps crunching on snow-covered ground on a calm winter morning and watching the steam of your exhaling breath. This is the time to feel fully at one with the Universe.
While we delight in the warm months when they roll around, it is winter that reveals our character. If we allow it, winter brings out our best qualities.