’Tis the season to get hectic, and yet I find that my energy always ebbs in December. I feel reasonably alert in the mornings and can get some work done, but by mid-afternoon I’m through. Just yesterday, it occurred to me that this is exactly how it’s meant to be.
My ancestry is mostly Germanic. I’m not sure how they do things in tropical regions, but in northern climes, we hunker down for winter. Spring is planting time, summer is filled with tending crops and cattle, autumn is the busy harvest.
But then comes December with brief days and snowy nights. It’s a quiet time. You sit by the fire with a cup of mead, tell a few stories. Maybe you darn socks or sharpen the plow — some low-key occupation. You go to bed early, and since the sun rises late, the rooster allows you to sleep in.
This was nature’s intent for winter. Conserve your energy, nature said. Food is scarcer now; you’ll need your calories for keeping warm. Labor in the cold is difficult and not very productive anyway. Rest awhile. There’ll be plenty to do when spring comes ’round again.
We clever moderns tend to ignore this good advice. Our biological makeup has not significantly changed, but our attitude has. If we feel lassitude in the chilly months, we think there’s something wrong with us, and we push ourselves into activity. Turn up the thermostat, flood the rooms with electric light and now it’s summer again: Let’s get to work.
We have even chosen, with a kind of perverse willfulness, to designate December the busiest month of the year. We race around shopping malls, bake mounds of cookies, journey long distances to visit relatives, or scrub and decorate our homes for receiving them. Retailers work longer hours, entertainers play more gigs.
Our ancestors would wonder what mischievous demons are driving us. “This is flu season!” commercials announce cheerily, and small wonder: Here in the bleak mid-winter, we’re running about as if it were the merry month of May. Our bodies were never designed for this.
Friends and family should be forewarned that I’m giving out a lot of gift cards this year. I’ll keep the fire stoked, and if you care to drop by, perhaps I’ll toss a roast in the oven, or a frozen pie — something easy. Be sure to bring mead.
Christopher Morse