What could you do in winter that you don’t do in the summer? If winter is a sad time for you, or you feel restless, or like you want to slow down, consider making it a special time to do things you wouldn’t do at other times of year.
I find I have seasons in my life. Some are related to specific activities I’m involved in at certain times of year, some are prompted by the seasons themselves. Summer seems to energize me and I want to be active. Winter is my time to slow down, go inward, take my time. You may find the same thing.
A few years ago, I read that Pema Chödron travels to teach during the warmer months, and in winter, she stays put at her home monastery to study, meditate, practice, and teach students who come to her. In her form of Buddhism, this is known as yarne, or “rainy season” (in India and Nepal, where Buddhism originated, the rainy season is in summer, but North American Buddhists use winter as their time to study and go into retreat). I’ve come to think of my winter slowdown as my version of this.
Once the social buzz leading up to Yuletide has died down or the holidays are over, it may be a good time to hunker down with a good book, learn a new skill, take the time to really dig into a skill or technique.
This might be something physical: making a point of getting to the skihill or hitting the cross-country trails to really master your technique. Maybe take some lessons and make this a priority. Maybe sign up for a new yoga class or a different weight training class.
It might be a time of mental practice: read a book you’ve been wanting to read. Make an appointment with yourself to read and savour something from beginning to end. Find a series of books you enjoy and read the entire series from start to finish. Take a course in something. You might watch one of the Great Courses or see if your local library has courses you can access, in person or online.
You could learn a new creative skill, or set the goal of completing one of those unfinished projects we all seem to have. There are free or inexpensive courses online, or you can search for YouTube videos on various skills and techniques, whether your love is knitting or oil painting.
It could be as simple as making a craft with a child or a friend. Cut out paper snowflakes. Make some muffins. Tidy up an area in your home that never seems to get attention. Polish the silverware or go through old photos. Do this in short sessions, so it’s not a big job that will make you feel stressed out or weighed down, but something you can take your time over. Put on some music, turn on lights, sit on the floor or in a comfy chair, and let yourself take some time.
Give yourself the gift of time and spaciousness in winter. A client told me that when her daughter was small, her husband would take time off work during or after the holidays, and they would do things together: go for walks, go for drives up into the hills, play games. She enjoyed that, and we decided she can still do that kind of thing. She plans to take books out of the library and block out time to relax and really savour them.
Winter is when gardeners and garden designers plan their work for the coming year. You can spend time with seed catalogues or tool catalogues and dream about your spring and summer projects. If you camp, give some thought to your camping gear and what might need upgrading, cleaning, repair. Plan your next trips.
So often, we feel the need to keep going at a certain pace, that we’ll get behind or lose out if we don’t. But nature has seasons, and so do we. You can give yourself permission to slow down and dig deeper. John O’Donohue wrote, “spring is the secret work of winter all the time.” It may seem like nothing is happening when there’s snow on the ground, but by the time we see buds on trees or poking up out of the ground, they’re already fully formed. They’ve been working quietly, slowly, even in the depths of winter.
Taking time to dig deep into a subject or a skill or a pastime you love during the winter months may give you renewed vigour once things warm up. It also brightens up the dark days of winter.
“Sometimes it's like there's a competition to see who has the most hectic schedule this time of year,” My friend was talking about how pressured she felt to socialize and pack.her schedule with activities during the holiday season.
Often, the expectation is that we WANT to have a lot to do: parties, shopping, baking and cooking, wrapping, sending out cards. We may feel strange not having a full schedule. But as my friend said, ”it’s all too much at times.”
We may feel pressure to socialize with people we don’t even like, the office Christmas party being one example. We may work with people we get along with but wouldn’t choose to spend time with. Throw in alcohol, loud music, annoying party games and holiday eating, their significant others, our significant others, and this can feel like a burden. Add in all the parties your significant other feels obliged to attend, and pretty soon, your schedule is overflowing.
I told my friend about traditions around the holiday season, how in medieval Europe, people would take time off from regular chores except for the absolutely urgent things like milking the cow or feeding the animals. They’d eat, drink, visit, play games, sing songs, tell stories. There were celebrations in the village or the town, and celebrating a festival was like an obligation. My friend pointed out that in modern times, we don't take time off work or school, yet we still want to do all this merrymaking,
Our work schedules can be even more hectic this time of year, with limited holiday hours and year-end deadlines, our kids have extra activities, music recitals, concerts, rehearsals, all on top of preparations for our own celebrations. Besides cooking, shopping and decorating. these may include getting ready to travel or host out-of-town guests. We’re trying to cram a lot of extra activities into the same 24 hour days we have the rest of the year.
If it feels like you don't have time for your favourite activities because of pressure to do more and more, look at the balance between what you really love and enjoy during the holidays, and what you feel obliged to do, especially if that pressure comes from the media, or from people who don't actually matter to you. The people you work with may be friends, but they may be people you tolerate or get along with well enough. but wouldn’t choose to spend time with. Maybe family members or in-laws are pressing you to do more with them than you enjoy or will fit with your other obligations. How important are their opinions compared with the feelings and opinions of the people you love most? The latter list needs to include yourself.
It's important to think about what you value most in your life as a whole, especially during the holiday season. Make sure you block off time for things you enjoy doing, with family or close friends, for other projects you like to get involved with like choir, charity activities, outdoor sports, seasonal festivals and rituals, for spending time alone, and with close family or your significant other.
You’re allowed to say no. Think ahead to find diplomatic ways of turning down an invitation. That might be, “we have other plans,” or “I’m not available.” You can follow up with, “it’s such a hectic time of year, isn’t it?” and let the other person draw their own conclusions. You don’t need to explain yourself or justify your preferences.
If it’s someone you value and want to maintain a good relationship with, you can make a different plan with them that doesn’t make you feel harried. That might be a lunch date early in the New Year where you exchange cards or gifts. Maybe include friends with a casual family activity, like going skiing or taking a walk on New Year’s Day.
If you decide you need to say no, it can help if you have an alternative. I know people who make a seasonal treat, like cookies or special popcorn, and have a scheduled day they drop these off at people’s homes or offices, which means they’re sure to have contact, but they control how long they stay. “Great seeing you, gotta get the rest of these delivered! Have a great Christmas!” If you make this a habit, then get an invitation you need to turn down, you can soften the blow with, “but I’ll see you when I drop off your cookies on Christmas Eve!”
You can also counter with an invitation of your own, where you control the time and event. I know people who have a champagne brunch the day after Christmas: they supply the coffee, champagne and orange juice, griddles and pancake mix, you bring your favourite bubbly, and pancake toppings or crepe fillings. Any time after 10 am and they kick everybody out by 2.
Another family had a musical evening between Christmas and New Year’s, “Come as you are, any time after 6,” BYOB, a few people brought instruments and there was a piano and song sheets. Once everybody arrived, we ordered pizza, on the theory we were all tired of turkey and fancy occasions by then, but we still wanted to get together. It was festive, but not onerous.
Find ways you enjoy socializing so it makes it easier to turn down activities you don’t enjoy or that make you feel harried. And don’t feel bad about not agreeing to every possible invitation, as long as you’re sensitive about how you refuse.
It can be hard to opt out of certain activities, but we all have only 168 hours in a week. At this time of year, make sure some of those hours are spent doing something you enjoy with the people you love.