Most of us have probably heard the song, “Deck the halls with boughs of holly; Tis the season to be jolly.” It’s a catchy tune and is one of the most popular/classic Christmas carols around. But if I take a step back from the seeming mass hysteria and actually LOOK at the season; I’m tempted to holler back bullshit! Winter has always been my least favorite season. It’s cold, dark, and it looks like nature is dying. And if you’re not prepared for it, it’s painful! What the hell is there to be jolly about?! Why even try having a holiday in such crappy weather? Or is it all to just try and fabricate something to make dealing with the cold a bit easier?

Y’know, us humans are actually kinda good at fabrication. And really, I shouldn’t call it that. Maybe I should say interpretation. We are all given reality, and then we interpret what it means to us. We assign meaning, and we structure out lives on and around whatever meaning we see. Most of the time, this is completely subconscious. Sometimes though, it’s something we do consciously and knowingly. And when we’re aware of the fact that we do it, we can choose to take control of the process more frequently. How does this change the harsh truth about winter? It doesn’t, not really. But we can change how it affects us, and we can look to our ancient history and modern science to see how.

If we look to pagan religions, where cultures developed their own sense of spirituality, you’ll see that they modeled spirituality off of the world around them. For instance, each season has a holiday that, in one way or another, matches the theme of said season. In winter however, it seems like it’s mostly opposite from my observation of what winter is like. The Romans exchanged gifts, and European pagans kept a log lit to ward off evil (kinda makes sense with all the darkness and all). The ancient chinese would offer sacrifices to their ancestors and feast.

It starts making more sense when you see things like they did; all part of a cycle. One of the most well known cyclical models there is is the Yin/Yang (the taijitu) symbol. We’ve all seen it, intertwined white and black halves. It shows opposite ends of a spectrum that rely on each other, transforms into each other, and are 2 parts of the same whole. Depending on the version you’re looking at, you’ll even see that the Yang side has a seed of Yin in it, and vice versa. When stepping back and looking at the Winter Solstice from a cyclical perspective, the Solstice being extreme Yin/darkness still has a kernel of the ever-enduring light. Not only that, but like that saying goes, “When you hit rock bottom, the only place to go is up.” With the Solstice passing, that means the days are only going to get longer from here on out. But is that it? Is that the only way we can leverage Winter Solstice? I don’t think so. I think there’s significance in the cold harshness, in the hibernation of the surrounding nature.

When we look at the parts of nature that seem to die during winter, what’s really happening? They’re withdrawing their energy, their life, from the harsh weather. They withdraw inwardly and for plants into their roots. How can we do the same? What are our roots? Is there even any value in us mimicking that behavior? Humans have had it rough for a while before civilization took “root”. We’re social, not solitary. Our survival has always depended upon each other. And that’s where our roots lie; in our family, our close friends, and our culture. By focusing our energy towards our roots, we can survive harsh conditions. And by being mindful of our limited amount of light and the impending darkness, we can make that light taste all the sweeter. The same happens in our bodies too, when there’s a metabolic crisis. On a microscopic level, our bodies will break down/recycle weak parts to help supply energy for the rest. It’s called autophagy. In fact, there’s a positive correlation between autophagy and lifespan. It’s almost as if we enrich life by embracing (microscopically) death.

So how do we take all of this understanding and put it into practice? That depends on the individual, I can give you a gist of what I’m doing. Seeing the darkness outweighing the light so heavily, I’m allowing death to become an object of meditation. I’m acknowledging that death is inevitable and my lifespan is continuously getting shorter. This grounds me in the present, and makes me more strongly feel the value that life has. That time is always running out, so seize the day before it slips through your fingers. Knowing that life isn’t for forever, I’m making effort to touch base with my roots. If you don’t honor your connections, then they may wither. And if your roots wither, then you will too. I’m also grateful that the darkest days will be behind us, and the ever-enduring light will grow once again. This is how I’m honoring winter, and leveraging it for my spiritual walk. Feel free to pick up some of those practices, or forge your own approach.

Maybe that carol isn’t bullshit afterall. Deck the halls with boughs of holly. Tis the season to be jolly. The holly (and other evergreen) represent the ever-enduring life. Let’s be jolly despite the cold, because we as the old year passes we can join together to hail the new year. Honoring the darkness, and cherishing life.

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