Story last updated at 12/9/2009 - 11:48 am
For me, winter usually begins with arriving late somewhere. It begins the first day I unexpectedly have to dig out my ice scraper and let the car defrost for ten minutes before I can leave. It begins with driving slowly and carefully and trying to not end up in a ditch.
And this year it began a little later than usual for me because I was out of town during the weeks of snow in November. I returned and all of a sudden there was snow and ice and darkness. At these latitudes winter is never particularly subtle, but coming into town a few weeks after it has begun really drives the point home.
"It's winter!" shouts dusk when it arrives just after 3 p.m. "It's winter!" shrieks the ice on your windshield that takes just a few minutes too long to scrape off, making you late for a meeting. "It's winter!" you scream to yourself when you slip on ice for the first time and curse yourself for not being better prepared.
And then there are the gorgeous sunny days, which usually come with a marked drop in temperature. It is a pretty obvious trade-off this time of year: if it's clear and sunny, it's probably going to be colder. If it's warmer, it's probably going to be overcast and dark.
But nearly everyone I know prefers cold and clear to warm and rainy in the winter. After all, with cold and clear you not only get the sun, which doesn't last very long, but the stars and the moon, which last quite a bit longer.
It's not so bad to have to get up in the dark when you can walk to work under the stars - and the moon, if you're lucky.
It's no accident that the stories we tell this time of year, from the traditional to the modern, are stories of light coming into the darkness.
I was reminded of this while watching Perseverance Theatre's wonderful production of "This Wonderful Life" this weekend. At what might be the darkest moment of George Bailey's life, when he feels he's "worth more dead than alive," he is led to see how much darker Bedford Falls would be without him. He realizes how much light he has already brought into the lives of others, and this realization brings him out of the darkness and back to life.
It's no coincidence that we celebrate holidays of light during the darkest days of the year. This week Hanukkah begins, celebrating the miracle of one day's worth of oil burning - and providing light - for eight days.
However we celebrate this time of year, our celebrations probably involve lights - whether we're adorning our houses and yards with bright colors or lighting candles inside.
And it may be that in the darkest days we're able to see our lives most clearly. We're not blinded by the sunlight and embalmed by warm air. We feel acutely what is: the morning frost, the chapped lips, the coziness of sweaters and scarves. In the darkness, by the light of a candle, we can quietly take stock of the good and bad in our lives.
But our celebrations remind us not to be afraid of the darkness in our lives. Light will return. Step outside on a clear night and we're reminded that even on the darkest days, the stars are still shining.
Katie Spielberger is the managing editor of the Capital City Weekly. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.