Winter probably gets the least love of all the seasons. In the fall, people utter ominous grumblings that it's "on its way", continue to voice their displeasure for its duration, then sigh with exasperation when it's still with us come March.
Laboriously layering kids against frostbite, the seat of your car feeling like a hard block of ice, contemplating sleep by 7:30pm...what's not to love? Apart from the hard-core skiers among us, it seems winter is widely perceived as something to endure. Which has me wondering if that's exactly where its value lies.
Rather than try to rebrand winter as upbeat and productive – just a colder version of the other seasons – what if we allow it to serve as a sort of annual rite of passage? Cultures the world over use rites of passage as a means of transition into a new stage of life. Could we see winter as a necessary period of initiation – one that ushers us from the end of one season of growth and activity to the start of a new one? As initiates, we're stripped of some of our usual sustenance: certain outdoor activities aren't possible, the plants and many animals withdraw their company for a time, daylight and warmth are diminished. Maybe there's a subtle transformation to be had in that.
We're accustomed to avoiding things that involve difficulty or discomfort, but avoidance isn't usually fruitful. Undesirable emotions are better felt into than repressed; childbirth is painful and laborious but, of course, rewarding; darkness tends to be feared, but we do need to enter it in order to sleep deeply. I'm not suggesting we endure winter with gritted teeth because it's good for us (like our childhood plate of peas), but that we allow it to do its work on us by staying with the process – by non-avoidance. How much sweeter spring is when we've gone through the frozen preparatory phase!
To be sure, there are loads of ways to enjoy this season. I can think of few things as beautiful as sunbeams hitting freshly fallen snow. It's the ideal time for sweaters, oven-roasted veggies, woodstoves, and boardgames (...and polar dips?), plus it's free of heatwaves and wildfire smoke. Yet there's still an element of endurance to it – a feeling of having been through something when we come out the other end, and of perhaps being more hardy because of it.
If winter is in fact a rite of passage that comes around each year, it's cheering to remember that, for those of us in temperate zones, it's a collective experience. Deeper purpose to the season or not, there's really no escaping the fact that we live on a planet with a tilt to its axis. As creatures of this earth, we might be best to just trust the ride.