It’s officially winter. I know, I know, it’s not “officially” winter, and employment of this overused adverb comes off as both cheap and misinformed. But that’s just how it feels today.
For the scientific sticklers amongst you: this year’s Winter Solstice falls on Thursday, the 21st of December. It’s the shortest day of the year and the first official day of what’s known as “astronomical winter.” It’s the day, they say, when the sun stands still; when it ventures to the southernmost tip of its lonesome trajectory and decides, “Nah, you know what? I’ll amble back around.”
It’s a consequential date to the astronomer, who has their head, professionally speaking, in the clouds. To a skier or snowboarder, who has their feet on the ground (if only momentarily), I believe the solstice is inconsequential.*
The start of winter—at least to me, an unscientific, pow-loving romantic—is neither fixed nor predictable. There’s no a mathematical equation to help us pinpoint it on our calendars; winter is erratic, moody, aloof. Short-term forecasters do their best to warn us when she’ll come knocking. But they know as well as anyone that winter’s likely to come crashing into fall like a drunken Santa Claus cannonballing down your chimney a week early. No regard for the calendar nor the children, this boisterous Saint Nick—he reeks of egg nog, demolishes cookies, leaves crumbs on the fancy couch, and wakes the kids up only to tell them inappropriate jokes.
Skiers and snowboarders, I propose, wait for winter like anxious children anticipating a scatterbrained and potentially sloshed Santa Claus.
Please forgive me if this Santa Claus analogy is offensive, off-base, or both. I know not of what I speak; my understanding of Santa is limited and admittedly tinged with envy. As far back as I can remember, I have felt cynical disbelief for that satin-robed fellow. How could a man so obese move so quickly, so silently? Or be in so many places at once? It just didn’t make sense. Not to mention, my main question was with regard to the inequality of his practice: why did he skip me, but rain down Nerf guns and Legos upon my classmates just because they erected a tree in their living rooms?
In fact, and I’m both ashamed and tickled to admit it, as a young Jew in a classroom full of Gentiles, I saw it as a mitzvah to convince my peers to ditch the rosy glasses, to see the parental sham of Santa for what it was: the capitalistic appropriation of a pagan ritual that had little to do with the birth of Christ. (Belated spoiler alert: hopefully your children don’t read my blog, I’d hate to remove the wool from their eyes). Of course, persuading five-year-olds that their brainwashed parents were cogs complicit in an unforgiving conspiracy of candy canes and Hallmark cards didn’t go over well in Ms. Wong’s kindergarten class. Not to mention, when the smart ones heeded my warnings and cracked the case—by matching the handwriting of “From: Santa” to “From: Mom” as I suggested—our friendships were irreparably mangled. Some gift wrap you just can’t tape back together.
Please, don’t make me out to be a martyr. To be honest, these Snowden-esque escapades stemmed not from a moral high ground, but rather from the opposite: I was devastated to realize, as all young Jews do, that my brother and I only received presents on Hanukkah to (Julian) Assuage the pain felt watching the Christian kids rake it in. That, to me, was the greatest deception of all.
Santa tangents aside, my point is that dates don’t matter. December 21st, December 25th, whatever—they’re just boxes on a calendar.** And if you’ve ever heard the wind howl through a mountain range like an industrial leaf blower pressed up against a keyhole, you know as well as I do that winter doesn’t fit into a box, no matter how big.
Short days may set the stage for winter, but the shortest day of all doesn’t wield a starting gun. And screw the astronomers! Seasonality isn’t dictated by dates. No, instead, I venture that winter is defined by weather, as it is weather that delivers what we seek. And if the solstice has nothing to do with the beginning of winter, we are left with one question that has infinite answers: how does winter start?
Winter starts with a shiver. A storm. A film of ice on an alpine lake. Frost on a windshield. Snow tires, a cold, hot chocolate spiked with peppermint schnapps. Swapping bikes for skis, sweaters for jackets. The smell of hot ski wax. The first chairlift ride, the first powder turn.
Today, my winter begins. I say “my” winter, because yours may have already started, or maybe you’re still waiting on our bacchanalian Santa to mix you up the right meteorological margarita.
But for me, my winter, my winter starts with a Colorado snowfall. My winter starts today.
* I don’t mean to discount those spiritual skiers who find it reassuring to, specifically on the Winter Solstice, burn a Clif Bar upon a sacrificial altar in reverence to the God of Snow. Do your thing. We need all the help we can get.
**March 18th is my birthday, so please don’t forget that one.