Albert Camus wrote, ‘In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer’. In bleak times and as we approach the cold and barren months in the northern hemisphere, it’s hard to hold on to the light. But wintering - slowing down, allowing the year to quietly fold in on itself, tending to ourselves and each other through the darkest months - might offer a calmer, quieter close to the year.
How many of us really find the peace that we look for at Christmas? December days concertina between work, shopping, responsibility and the pace of festivities, often leaving us longing for a calm that eludes us.
Our sap is low and we can see and feel it all around us reflected in the paled and fallen leaves in ragged parks, the hardened earth, strained faces and gaunt fields. But beneath the surface, soil and bark, life patiently waits for the days to lengthen. The seeds of our intentions thrive with more determination in spring if they have endured the cold winter months. If we slip into the mind of winter, we could be hummed to stillness like the wild things, lulled by the gloaming, enchanted by the trees’ dark silhouettes and grey skies ready to be illuminated with light. Allowing ourselves to be enveloped by the darkness and regularly creating moments of restorative ease in the middle of our busy lives, leads to a sense of fullness, of ripe inner being. Clarity comes with letting go, with giving our minds and spirits time and space in which to quietly expand.
In stepping outside to walk under the moon or wade through inclement weather, we heighten the pleasure of returning to the warmth of our homes to feel a kind of earthy cosiness and recall our resilience and capacity for joy.
Daily rituals sustain us during the cold winter months like lighting a candle to ease into the day, brewing coffee in a quiet kitchen, drawing the curtains when we arrive home from work, lying in a warm bath, eating together. When we follow the oblique winter sun around our homes, string fairy lights, ignite candles or conversation, we create a circle of warmth to lift our spirits and savour the contrast between the glow of friendship and soft light and the darkness that surrounds us.
The annual ritual of bringing in an evergreen tree is a promise of renewal, of the greener, brighter months to come. Decorating our homes with mistletoe, holly sprigs and pinecones, draws from the life that surrounds us and reminds us of our own deep nature - our inclination to flow with the changing seasons. We can revel in turning inward; hibernate a little.
This hatful of festive days contain the possibility of slowing down, making time for each other and for modest pleasures found close to home. In small, satisfying activities like unwrapping a warm parcel of fish and chips, making a playlist, turning vinyl, beachcombing, playing cards, drinking sloe gin or visiting a neighbour with a flask of tea, we locate a seam of richness. Using our few days off to enjoy a collection of unread books, sift through old photos and the misplaced hopes of summer and attend to the sorting, mending, reading and conversations that we have neglected through the year can lend us a feeling of equanimity more valuable than elaborate gifts.
Lighting a candle won’t pay the bills, put food on the table or empty the septic tank but it can help us keep perspective and remember to celebrate the light in each other through the year to come.
Words by Louisa Thomsen Brits