You know, Old Man Winter isn’t very kind to those of us who live in northern parts, or even near them. For the most part winter is dark, cold, and bleak, and usually ends with a muddy and wet spring. Even our literati recognize the obvious facts of winter, and tell us about them. Willa Cather, for example, said: “Winter lies too long in country towns; hangs on until it is stale and shabby, old and sullen.”[1]

But while winter is pretty dark, it’s interesting that half of the darkest days occur before winter even starts. Why? Well, because that’s the way we count. Winter begins with the Winter Solstice [December 21[2]], which is the shortest day of the year. So from the 21st on we can expect to see each successive day lengthen until the Summer Solstice [June 21].

So why do we make a big deal of New Year’s Eve each year? Frankly I don’t know. It has nothing to do with the sun; our days are already lengthening. Perhaps it has something to do with taxes. For most of us, unless we’re corporations, January 1 marks the start of a new tax year. While we may have to reckon with the damage done last year, at least we have a clean slate for the future.

On the other hand, why not celebrate January 1? After all, there’s been more sunlight each day since December 21, and days will lengthen for several months. Surely that’s something to cheer about? Well, perhaps, but not everybody sees it that way. Back in the 17th Century, people worried about mild winters. “A green Yule makes a fat churchyard,[3] they said. And some of our poets fret about what might come after winter’s end. “Winter is come and gone, [b]ut grief returns with the revolving year.”[4]

That isn’t very cheery, is it? Nevertheless, I think it’s wise to be happy this New Year’s Day. “The world of the happy is quite different from that of the unhappy.” [Ludwig Wittgenstein][5]  Who knows? We might all benefit if we join that world, at least for 24 hours.

[1] Most quotes are taken from the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (6th Edition) (Oxford, 2004), which we will cite as ODQ at ___. See ODQ at Willa Cather, p. 199, n. 12.

[2] If you want to know more about the winter and summer solstices, go to Wikipedia and search “Solstice,” or simply click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solstice

[3] See ODQ at Proverbs, p 621, n. 20.

[4] See ODQ at Percy Bysshe Shelley, p. 728, n. 17

[5] See ODQ at Ludwig Wittgenstein, p. 842, n. 14.

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