Iâ€™m writing this just a couple of days after the winter solstice, aka the longest night of the year. Here in coastal B.C., this tends to coincide with rain and heavy cloud cover, giving us the impression that weâ€™re trapped inside a damp grey gym sock in a poorly-lit basement.
All this darkness can induce a depressed mood for many people, the dreaded Seasonal Affective Disorder. Although weâ€™ve only named this feeling in the last few decades, itâ€™s clear itâ€™s been around throughout and before recorded history.
Take Englandâ€™s Stonehenge, for example.
Thousands of years ago, neolithic hunter-farmer-gatherers did not have a lot to look forward to over the winters. They got up every day and tramped through muddy forests, chasing muddy animals, only to return to houses made from dried mud, to huddle around peat fires (peat is basically mud that burns), for a nourishing meal of suspiciously grey-brown mush. Things got a bit monotonous, is what Iâ€™m saying.
After centuries of watching the sun, moon, and stars, they figured out that there was a tipping point when things were at their grimmest, but after that there was slow and steady improvement, until finally spring and then summer conquered the land, and the world was only made of 30 per cent mud! Maybe 40.
Finally one chieftain turned to his top spiritual advisor, and said something like this:
â€œBy Cernunos (or whatever anthropomorphized natural processes archeologists think we worshiped) we need to pin down exactly when the darkest day of the year takes place! This wallowing in grey misery for a couple of weeks is intolerable! If we can pick a date, weâ€™ll have a big party and barbecue some pigs and everyone can get drunk.â€
And the spiritual advisor nodded and stroked his beard and tried to look suitably mystical, and then he went off and did some math, and a few weeks later they were asking contractors for bids on a few thousand tons of Welsh stone, suitable for building giant arches.
Iâ€™m just as pleased as the ancient tribal leaders about the passing of the solstice, but even being able to look up to the second the time we pass from fall into winter doesnâ€™t really help much.
The changes in minutes of daylight from December 21 to December 22 or 23 arenâ€™t really that impressive. A couple of minutes. Just a few moments shaved off the darkness.
Iâ€™m thinking we need another holiday. Not around Christmas, obviously, and even New Yearâ€™s isnâ€™t far enough away.
We need a celebration somewhere around early February.
By that time, weâ€™ve been shrouded in grey and grim weather for three or four months, starting from around the end of October or early November.
But in February, you finally start to notice that the days are getting longer. The sun can actually make it over the tops of the trees, and standing on the south side of a hill is no longer a necessity when it comes to producing a bit of vitamin D.
We should celebrate this vague milestone, this halfway point between the darkest depths of winter and the true return of spring. Itâ€™s that day when things start to look brighter, both literally and figuratively.
I donâ€™t think we want to build a giant stone calendar/ritual site this time. Instead, letâ€™s just get some legislation that allows everyone an extra day off sometime between January and March. Send your boss an email, tell them itâ€™s time, and head outside. It beats hauling giant rocks 200 miles, anyway.