“Marley was dead: to begin with.” – Charles Dickens
If you grew up in the United States, you know that the winter holiday season is supposedly the most wonderful time of the year. But a lot of people are not joyful right now, far from it. Some suffer from seasonal depression because of the lack of sunshine. Others are grieving loved ones or lost relationships. Some of us are just pissed because we imagine everyone else gallivanting at sparkly, romantic holiday parties.
I tend to fall into this category. I even keep a shimmery gold shirt just in case I get invited to such a sparkly party. Instead, the only time I think about it is when I have to convince my daughter that no, Mommy does not wear glittery clothes to work!
Despite all of these modern trappings, this has always been a time of celebration precisely because it is cold and dark (at least in the northern world). Ancient humans of various cultures held festivals, bonfires, and generally partied as a way of warding off the blues that often accompany this time of year – only they were particularly worried about starving or freezing before winter’s end.
But what I find especially magical about the season is, in fact, not its cheer, but its danger. For generations, into the nineteenth-century, Christmas was often akin to our modern Halloween – a time of spirits, witches, and demons. Because of the threats that the winter brought, such as lack of food, frigid temperatures, and fear of the unknown, many northern cultures believed that malevolent beings roamed free. It’s no wonder that one of the most beloved Christmas stories, A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, is about ghosts. Or even the song, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” which contains the lyrics:
“There’ll be scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories of
Christmases long, long ago.”
So if you are feeling grumpy, sad, or anti-social this holiday season, know you are in good company. Allow the darkness to envelop and warm you.