The color of springtime is in the flowers, the color of winter is in the imagination. ~Terri Guillemets
Yesterday most of us rolled our clocks back an hour, returning to standard time from daylight saving time. The sun is now setting at about 4:50 pm where I live.
I love cold weather, but the shorter days are always difficult for me to adjust to. Over the years I’ve stored up a toolbox of activities to make cold, winter nights more fun. I find myself especially in need of them in the days and weeks after the time changes.
1. Eat by candlelight
We didn’t light a lot of candles in my house when I was growing up, but occasionally we’d eat by candlelight. Those nights, along with random power outages, are some of my happiest memories. Flickering soft light just makes any dinner more special. Every year after we observe Earth Hour, I envision that we’ll spend one night a week using no electricity. We’ve yet to make that a reality, but we eat by candlelight now and then. And every time we do it, it’s as fun and uplifting as I remember it being when I was a kid. Maybe it’s because it’s hard to rush when you’re watching the reflection of flames dance on glasses.
2. Start a fire
There’s so much to love about a winter fires – the warmth, the mesmerizing flames, the way it brings the entire family together in one spot to look at something other than a TV screen. Bonus: we haven’t had to turn our heater on yet this year and have been enjoying some rather toasty nights.
3. Read aloud or tell stories
Years ago, an older friend told me that she and her husband had been reading books aloud to each other each night for decades. I loved the idea, and since then, my husband and I have read many books aloud together. These days we spend our read-aloud time reading to our son about Arthur, D.W., Francine and company. (He’s in love with them.) But I know soon, we’ll be onto chapter books, and then adult books again. There are so many great reasons to start a family reading tradition. I wrote about them in this post.
Storytelling is also a fun way to pass an evening. In Robert Shank’s book Tell Me A Story: Narrative and Intelligence, he explains that “human memory is story-based.” We’ve learned by telling each other stories since long before Homer. If coming up with a fictional yarn sounds more pressure-packed than taking the GRE, don’t worry. Just relax and tell stories about your childhood, grandparents, or past adventures. If you’re a parent, this kind of storytelling serves a bigger purpose: it helps kids recognize their place in a larger family and feel closer to their parents. Most people love listening to stories. And the more you practice, the better you get at telling them.
4. Throw a potluck
With the extra dose of darkness, we can all probably use double-shots of health and happiness. Well, the research is in: social connectedness is good for us. Researchers from Brigham Young University recently reviewed 148 studies and found that people with strong ties to family, friends or co-workers have a 50 percent lower risk of dying over a given period than those with fewer social connections. As The New York Times reported, “Having few friends or weak social ties to the community is just as harmful to health as being an alcoholic or smoking nearly a pack of cigarettes a day.” Potlucks are a thrifty and labor-saving way to invite your friends, neighbors, or colleagues over. My acquaintances may just be exceptional cooks, but potlucks never seem to disappoint.
I wrote about winter stargazing in this post last December. Shortly thereafter I made bold plans to stargaze every night of 2010 with my trusty copy of 365 Starry Nights, which my husband gave me for Christmas. The first few nights of January, I had a great time scouting out Orion and Pleides. Then it got cloudy. And it stayed cloudy until … July. Yes, rainy Eugene is not a stargazer’s paradise, and oh how I miss the Colorado night skies. But if you live somewhere with few clouds and a dark sky, bundling up and gazing at the stars is an age-old, relaxing way to spend a cold, dark winter night.
6. Make Something with your hands
In her book Lifting Depression, neuro-scientist Kelly Lambert argues that using our hands for manual labor helps us prevent and cure depression. She says that when we cook, garden, knit, sew, build, or repair things with our hands and see tangible results from our efforts, our brains are bathed in feel-good chemicals. I just got my knitting needles out after neglecting them for the summer, and it’s incredibly rewarding to see what I can make with my own two hands in a relatively short time (while I’m sitting in front of the fire, listening to a story, watching a movie, or otherwise enjoying a winter evening).
What’s your favorite way to spend a cold, dark night? Do you have any tips for coping with fewer daylight hours?