When I woke this morning, I plodded through the chilly house with my hair draped over my shoulders like a blanket, a sure indication that the world is winding down for the year. The first leaves are suggesting a yellow hue, the days are shortening, Orion is creeping near the horizon, and I see that the world is beginning to draw into itself.
I could make a good argument that I love every season, but I am especially partial to autumn. And Thursday is the fall equinox.
What a great word: equinox. The word makes me think of both breaking and linking. According to the rules of Harry Potter spells, it sounds like it should mean “equal night,” or “equal put-out-your-wand-Harry-Snape’s-coming”, which isn’t too far from the truth. (Okay, the first one isn’t too far from the truth.) Equinoxes occur, spring and fall, when the day and night are approximately equal to one another. It’s a division of the 24 hour day into approximately 12 hours of light and 12 of dark, and of the year into 6 months of more daylight than night and 6 months of more darkness than day. This is true all over the world. Breaking, and linking.
To celebrate the fall equinox, I’m talking about a few of my favorite fall and winter things. Despite my excitement, though, I recognize that the next six months will be very difficult for many people, and I’m going to try to acknowledge that as I go.
1. Coziness. Let’s be clear, I am absolutely a sun baby. I need sunlight to be well. If I had magic, I’d absorb it from the sun’s rays. Superman and I don’t get along (let’s not get into that right now), but you may well know that the source of his strength is our yellow sun. And on this point, at least, I relate. I have repeatedly forgone moving into my own office at work in order to stay in a communal room that boasts a wall of windows. But I love peppermint hot chocolate, bright stars, crisp air, hearty soups, piles of blankets, softly glowing embers, and the shedding of layers to signal you’re staying. I enjoy nothing more than crocheting by firelight, reading beneath a blanket, ladling a bowl of chili for the person hanging her coat and scarf by the door.
I’m pretty neurotypical, so the lack of sunlight and increase in darkness affects me on a fairly typical spectrum. I more often feel down. I’m more lethargic. I’m prone to walking outside and just standing there, eyes shut, face turned up like a sunflower. However, for many of my friends with depression and anxiety and other mental illnesses, winter is hellacious. For them, the fall equinox heralds the galloping approach of winter’s hot-breathed beasts. Plus, I hear the white walkers are coming.
2. Holidays. This one is about time, rest, and (re)connection. The next few months are stacked with my favorite holidays. The normal ones, but also my birthday and Guy Fawkes Day and Twelfth Night. Until the spring equinox, I get to spend a few days off of work here and there with the people I love the most, but who I maybe have neglected to call as often as I should have. Traditions reemerge from the woodwork and we all act as silly as we did two decades ago. New traditions and new family members get folded into these. I’m able to sit and look out the window. I’m able to read, nap, and daydream. Yes, the flurry of present-buying is ridiculous and harrowing and stressful. Yes, the stores decorate far too early. But the holidays themselves are awash in peace for me (as long as everyone ignores to my grandfather’s political statements).
For me as a Christian, the fall and winter are incredibly important renewal times for my faith. Maybe Lent and Easter should be, theologically speaking, but my childhood mentors and teachers and churches barely mentioned Lent. I’m still a bit iffy on what it’s supposed to be doing to me or I in it. But Advent, though far more complex than I learned of in childhood, is my time to evaluate my relationship status with God. And, as cliché as that sounds, I often move from “it’s complicated” or “mute” to unironic heart emojis or a gif of shaking hands. Not every year. And honest change is so much harder as an adult than it was as a kid, but it’s a chance to try. It’s a reminder to stop, to lay down, to wonder, to ask God questions.
I’m blessed with a wonderful home and family life. I have no large traumas or deaths in my past which make the span of time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s dreaded and endured rather than anticipated and enjoyed. However, I know so many people who just want to survive these holidays. Which is why I don’t accuse people of hating happiness if they don’t like snow-laden music or the plethora of holiday-themed movies and greetings. I have friends who feel attacked every holiday spent with family and can’t wait to get away again. I have friends for whom this optimism-heavy and Christian-centric season is annoying at best and oppressive at worst.
3. Nostalgia. Yes, the holidays are full of nostalgia thanks to traditions and films and once-a-year cookie recipes, but each day where I’m crunching leaves underfoot or wearing my favorite pair of tights is a call back to times that were meaningful or formative to me. Or just fun.
When was the last time the sky was this blue?
I remember that time I wore my mom’s old Dingo boots and my favorite leather jacket to stomp leaves in the back yard.
I used to sit on a stool in front of the stove and watch these cookies bake.
One year when my choir sang at a Christmas festival, it was so cold that our collective frozen breath made it hard to see the crowd.
I remember the New Year’s Eve bonfire two years ago when someone decided the first song of the year should be “Danger Zone.”
For the same reasons as with number 2, I know that many people struggle to enjoy, or just endure, the coming season. It will be hard for many people to remember happier times, either because they occurred before a deeply painful event or because they didn’t have many happy times. For my friends who aren’t Christians, it will be hard to hear “Merry Christmas” multiple times a day, and many will face hostility if they don’t say it back.
4. Darkness. I don’t like that the entirety of my sunlit hours are spent at work or that, on my lunch break, I must decide whether to sit inside where it’s warm or in my sunlit, but frigid, car. I don’t like that I don’t feel safe running after work because the world closes in on night so quickly. I rail about waking up in the dark and racing to do my errands and get home before the sun sets. And yet, candles. And yet, s’mores in the fireplace. And yet, twinkle lights. And yet, fireworks. And yet, bonfires. And yet, hours of stillness in which to write. NaNoWriMo is when I set my big project aside, whatever it is and whatever I’ve been doing to it, and throw myself into something new. I spend November, my favorite month of the year, engaged in my favorite part of the writing process: drafting. I create something new. I get up in the darkness, wrap myself in a blanket, and write until I absolutely, no really, have to get up and get dressed for work. The darkness cocoons, though it limits, and the lights are more profound in its midst.
I hope the lights ahead will be plentiful enough and bright enough to help you endure the coming darkness. Plus pumpkin spice everything. I bequeath you my share. I’ll keep to the peppermint syrup and my hot chocolate.