The Paradox of Winter

Today, I thought I might take a break from the nightmare diarrhea hellfire updates and write a bit about my favorite season. I mean, yes, Rep. Devin Nunez seems weirdly reluctant to answer a simple question about whether or not he’s been doing the things that he is accusing others of, but hey- we all need to take breaks. 

Although I do enjoy spending time with my family, I’d rather be honest and not sugar-coat native genocide by fully embracing the Thanksgiving mythos. I like to think that a day where entering a food coma with loved ones and then crashing at 8pm can be separated from its origin as a propaganda device, but it is still important to correct misinformation.  

Potentially uncomfortable truths aside, December is coming. This time of year means many different things to different people, but there are usually parties and gifts involved.  

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we don’t often get snow. As a child, the dissonance between the beautiful illustrations on Christmas cards and the leafmush-crusted reality of PNW Winter used to bother me.

Today, however, I have a deep appreciation for the sight of rain-misted pines in the distance. When I drink my tea and contemplate the sight, I like to pretend I’m in some kind of epic fantasy novel. 

And instead of making a series of terrible decisions that lead to some kind of heart-breaking (yet exceedingly dramatic) conclusion at the end, I just look at some pretty trees that don’t die in the Winter and think about their significance. 

The significance of the evergreen can be easy to miss in our present way of life. For those who didn’t spend all of middle school and high school reading up on ancient religious systems/mythology/folk magic, the basic idea is that trees that don’t go bare in the Winter were often thought to be special or sacred in some way.

And that makes sense. If your literal survival through the winter depended on how just how long you could make those shriveled turnips last, a tree that didn’t go bare would be exciting as hell. 

Today, one can simply go to the store and purchase turnips if they have the funds. Or carrots. Or Shitakke mushrooms. Or donuts. Or whatever unholy combination of sugar and artificial dye is being passed off as the latest oreo cookie flavor.

But as wonderful as these conveniences are, they can conceal the very real hardships of Winter. And those hardships can accumulate until, like those little plastic take out-forks that you’ve hoarded, they jam up your silverware drawer of life.

For most of us, the days become shorter and there is less sunlight. This is actually a pretty big problem in the PNW, as we aren’t the sunniest of regions even in the warmer months. Our bodies don’t always get enough vitamin D as it is (insert preferred dirty joke here) and so in the Winter time we become human equivalents of that plant you had in freshman year of college- technically alive, but not exactly thriving. 

Flu season is unpleasant, and can even be dangerous for those with weaker immune systems. And for those living without shelter, even a simple cold can be a serious hazard. 

Then there’s the curious dissonance between almost all of the life around us going into hibernation, and our own unchanged work schedules. This dissonance can range from annoying to completely and utterly soul crushing.

I can honestly say that if I had a choice between reliving a Saturday night shift at a retail chain during the Holiday season, or reliving a round or two of chemo from my cancer treatment a couple years back, I would take the chemo without hesitation. Hard work is one thing, but listening to a series of elderly customers tear your head off for saying Happy Holidays while a couple has sex in the fitting rooms just doesn’t exactly put one in the Holiday spirit. At least in the infusion suite at the cancer treatment center, they might give you hot chocolate if you ask them nicely. 

And then there’s Holiday shopping- an activity that can be genuinely fun, OR, more stressful than a no-context “we need to talk” text. 

Fear not, I’m not about to give you the “all shopping is EVIL how DARE you get excited about getting something nice that you couldn’t normally afford” lecture. Whether it’s Black Friday, or Small Business Saturday, or Medium-Large Business Sunday, or Cyber Monday, or just-fucking-take-these-toasters-the-manufacturer-went-under-we-have-no-place-to-put-them-Tuesday, the Holidays can be a fun time for shopping if one has the means and the time. 

The thing is, a lot of people DON’T have the means and the time. But our economy needs those consumer dollars (or so we’re told) and thus we are conditioned through advertising to seek gratification through physical means, even in scenarios where it might not actually make us feel better.

Buying something “fun” to cheer oneself up can be a good partial or temporary solution to the Winter Blues, but if there are underlying problems (such as a crappy job, stress about money, physical or mental health issues ect.) then that purchase can only go so far.

Those catalogs that Amazon sent out might look charming, but I’m guessing that safer working conditions for those who work in those warehouses would probably bring more genuine Holiday cheer than yet another set of matching Holiday PJs for 40% off. Seriously, Bezos, if you’re reading this, you can go ahead and charge me an extra few bucks for my stuff if employees can report a gas leak without fear.

Time with family can also be a mixed blessing. I’m lucky enough to have a functional and loving family, but I know that isn’t the case for everyone. Time with abusive family members can be very damaging.

The paradox of Winter is that when we badly need rest, we are discouraged or even prevented from getting that rest. To fully “participate” in the Holidays (as defined by advertisers and pop culture) is to rebel against our own nature.  

So there you have it- The Holidays can be terrible. But they can also be awesome, so I’m going to spend the rest of this post talking about that.

Whether you’re religious or not, the month of December offers an opportunity to celebrate the fact that yes, things will eventually get warm again and no, we won’t all die because the turnips ran out. 

Soon, the snow will melt. Soon, the winter-leafmush will disintegrate and be replaced with spring-leafmush (slightly prettier!). Soon, the depressing display of unwanted Holiday merchandise will go away and be replaced with just normal depressing and unwanted merchandise. Need any cheap hair dye with damaged packaging? Now is your CHANCE.

Because Spring will come. And life will go on.

But until then, take care of yourselves. Get healthy amounts of sleep when you can. Stay hydrated. If a cold glass of tap water doesn’t sound appealing while it’s hailing outside, then make some nice herbal tea, or heat up some cider.  

Go Holiday shopping. Or don’t. Spend time with family. Or don’t. Pray for good fortune in the new year, or don’t. Binge-watch delightfully cheesy Holiday movies. Or don’t.

The important thing is to embrace your own vision of this time of the year. Don’t long for the sugarcoated winter-ish scene on a Hallmark card while there are pines in the distance that give their own promise of new life. The true “meaning” of this season is what you make of it.

So make it meaningful for you. How will you do that this year?

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