My job as music director always adds the stress of Christmas musical preparation on top of everything else December entails. Once the stress disappears (along with most of the Christmas decorations), the remainder and majority of my Minnesota winter looks bleak. Do kindly remember a late April or early May snowfall is not unusual. The first stanza of Christina Rosetti’s famous poem popularly set to music by Gustav Holst certainly speaks well to how I experience Christmas and January, emphasis on the snow on snow:
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
SAD doesn’t affect just my physical or mental well-being. As Catholics, we believe in the connection between the physical and the spiritual within our human selves. My SAD creeps into my spiritual life and by the time I recognize this, I feel long gone. My acedia secretly and quietly creeps into my prayer until it’s February and I wish I had saved up for a tropical getaway. How coincidental that we finish celebrating the great feast of the Incarnation and the incarnational aspects of my own life fall apart in the darkest season.
Last summer, I listened to an episode of the podcast “Nocturne” called “The Blue Time.” The podcast talks about various aspects of the night. This episode dealt directly with the darkness of northern latitudes, especially in northern Scandinavia where they have two months of polar night around the winter solstice. The podcast relates that the northern most regions of Scandinavia have less incidence of seasonal affective disorder than more southern places like Minnesota. This intrigued me because two months of darkness sounds like my own personal hell. Scandinavians have a word for how they get through winter: hygge (pronounced hyoo-guh.) There is no direct translation into English; the closest we have is ‘cozy.’ Hygge conveys a comfort or coziness one feels when one does particularly simple and pleasurable things. You might picture that Christmas Eve feeling settled in front of the fireplace after a delicious meal, the Christmas tree twinkling and hot buttered rum warming you from head to toe. The Scandinavians have a way about them deeply embedded in their culture to not just survive winter but to make it pleasurable and blessed.
Inspired by this, I have endeavoured to approach winter differently this year. As the days grew shorter and colder I tried to catch myself complaining about the impending darkness and flip it around to look forward to the hygge winter can offer. An Advent reflection book certainly helped focus my prayer as I snuggled in at night with quiet music, my bible, and a warming drink; I began to look forward to this time with the Lord after dealing with the stress of the day. Each small consolation became a time to connect with Jesus in this joy of anticipation of Christmas.
Rosetti’s poem speaks in later stanzas to the quiet ways in which the animals, and even the Virgin Mary, offered their small but very meaningful worship of the Christ Child with the simple acts of gathering at the stable or even a kiss. The final stanza invites the reader (or singer) ‘give my heart’ to the Christ Child in the best act of worship imaginable. This is where ‘hygge’ meets our relationship with Christ.
In these days after Christmas, it is incumbent upon us to remember the Gospel for Christmas Day: ‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.’ (Jn 1:5) In each act of finding Christ in our everyday lives, we strengthen our relationship with him and truly bring the act of Christmas to the rest of the year.