I’m reframing this latest period of lockdown in Scotland as “hibernation”, and trying to savour the slowness of Winter. A lockdown at this time of year is a very different beast, but instead of battling the urge to hibernate, I’m taking time to rest and nurture body and mind (at least at weekends – I’m a key worker!). In recent years, scientists have found evidence that early humans actually hibernated. This isn’t too shocking a discovery – anyone who has survived a Scottish Winter is likely to suggest such an approach might be preferable.
For me, the grey days and weeks between Yule and Imbolc used to be something of a no-man’s land. Maybe it’s something about it being exam season in Scottish schools and universities, so my mind perennially associates these days with interminable revision and peaking stress levels. Maybe it’s the contrast between the sparkle of Christmas and the uncomfortably blank slate of the time that follows. Maybe it’s the narrative of self-improvement, busyness and denial associated with the post-festive period – and we should listen to the call of our more sedentary instincts instead.
After all, these are arbitrary boundaries placed on the ending of one year and start of another and, in contrast with this contemporary call to contrition, our ancestors long associated this period with rest and regeneration, taking their cues from nature and hunkering down for the cold months. Something about this annual rhythm resonates deeply within us; it is an instinct to be denied at our peril. The period from Midwinter up until the start of February is a time for reflecting and recouping as the light grows stronger, little by little, day by day.
Although it might seem impossible to disentangle our existence from the pace and progress dictated by the world around us, it is possible to carve out small, meaningful moments to allow our bodies and minds the overwintering they crave. From lighting a candle over breakfast, investing in some new bedding ready for hunkering down, or simply making something with your hands, these slow rituals mark the period leading up to Imbolc – the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox – with kindness.
It’s tempting to hurtle towards spring and its promise of new life, busyness and colour, but there is so much beauty to be found in the starkness of Midwinter. It’s the impossibly green shoots of the first snowdrops, a miracle beneath a brown carpet of bracken. It’s the song of a robin, perched on a bare branch, chest puffed up in pride. It’s the scent of freshly laundered sheets and the golden glow of beeswax candles flickering above the mantle. It’s the lip-puckering bitterness of homemade marmalade on hot, buttered toast. It’s the hug of your favourite rollneck jumper on a frosty morning. It’s the extra sets of fairy lights, left out after Christmas to light the way to Spring.
Although it may seem to be sleeping, nature has been quietly, slowly reviving; look closely and you’ll notice the seasons beginning to shift. Start to note the small changes around you as the Earth begins to turn back towards the sun and the days get just that wee bit longer. But don’t chase time away; there’s beauty to be found in the thousand shades of brown and grey and white of Winter. Even – especially – at a time like this.