Because it’s pretty. And because also it helps lessen the agonizing state of denial that totally consumes me from January 2nd until mud season (and for those of you not from Maine, “mud season” is the colloquially-recognized name for the month of April.). Even then mud season comes with its own state of denial during which we are continually tricked into thinking spring is here except it’s not and it’s snowing again. And now we have snow on top of mud.
My Christmas tree is still up because I’m not ready to let go of the season just yet. I want to hold on to it for a little while longer as my hands, warm inside my new mittens, cling tightly to the holiday spirit. I want to hold closely all the warmth the holidays bring, including the chaos of concert schedules and ugly sweater parties, the piles of things to be wrapped and the belly aches after eating too many frosted sugar cookies. I want to remember the anticipation December brings. The anticipation of knowing something good is coming, something that smells of cinnamon and good cheer, something so wonderful it can only be felt by giving it away. The spirit that makes us smile at strangers and hold the door, give heartfelt wishes for merriness and happiness, the spirit that gives us all a little more patience and optimism for the coming year. As if this year it will somehow be different.
Because that’s what holiday spirit is. Kindness and optimism. Goodwill and patience.
And this holiday spirit seemingly takes forever to arrive on our doorsteps, sometimes in the form of packages and greeting cards and other times as those first few snowflakes. You know those first few snowflakes, the ones we find exciting and magical as we press our noses to the windows and yell “it’s snowing!” and suddenly it’s cups of hot chocolate all around and Christmas music as the outside is transformed into a winter wonderland. (And I realize those first enchanted snowflakes are completely different from the ones that have banked themselves several feet high around the house and have piled on your roof and won’t stop falling in 8-12 inch increments for the 5th time this year even though we still have three months of winter and you’re so over shoveling and WHY WON’T IT STOP SNOWING ALREADY. Those are different snowflakes and I’ll come back to them.).
“December, are you here yet?” we ask ourselves the moment we remove the sunken jack-o-lanterns from our front steps. And no sooner have we asked the question and it’s whirring past ours eyes in a blurry month of wrapping tape, pine needles and bits of inedible gingerbread house, as we stand dumbfounded and slightly bloated, this time asking ourselves “Wait, wasn’t it just December 1st?”.
Where did December go?
Where did the holiday spirit go? The holiday spirit being our springboard into winter as the “ladies and gentlemen, start your engines” sound clip of silver bells heralds us towards the long cold months ahead. And we do, we start our engines, and more often than not after being plugged in all night. But we need that month of chaotic joy and anticipation, because we’re certainly not anticipating a long cold Northern Maine winter. I mean, we’ll take the winter months and we’ll forge ahead doing what we always do, but we’re not overly excited for it to arrive.
Because you see, at the latitude of 45° north, there’s a lot of cold darkness and dark coldness, which individually cold and dark can be noble aspects of living in Northern Maine, but together are a formidable pair. The darkness for instance, of looking up at a midsummer night’s sky, long after your bedtime, gazing into the black and sparkling abyss of the constellations as you spot Ursa Major, your bare arms and legs still warm from the summer haze that sat low and heavy all day, that is a lovely darkness.
Or the cold for instance, as you walk outside into the brilliant winter sun bundled in warm layers, traipsing along one of the hundreds of snow shoe trails in Aroostook County as the cold nips at your eyelashes and you inhale the crisp arctic air. It’s cold, it’s bright and it’s fresh and intoxicating.
But living through the darkness and the cold together can often be an overwhelming expectation for many of us dwelling in the most northern parts of the Northern Hemisphere.
So we look forward to and hold on to the Holiday weeks that begin our winters, drinking them in like a double shot of vitamin D, demanding the bartender pour us another and chasing it all down with a long ray of light therapy. We know we’ll need that warm happiness to get us through the next three months. And every Northern Maine winter, although always cold and dark, presents itself differently. Some bring us average snow fall amounts and some tease us with brown bare February lawns and wicked warm January thaws. Sometimes we don’t actually have a white Christmas and some Nor’easters don’t make their appearance until late March.
And some winters, we get a lot of snow.
Like a lot of snow.
I’m talking an obscenely large amount of snowfall in a short period of time.
Just one more reason you weren’t our favorite, 2016.
We’ve received an unusually generous volume of snow very early this winter season and we aren’t entirely sure where we’re supposed to put it anymore. January has barely started its engine (which sounds suspiciously like the Troy-Bilt two stage snow blower I bought myself this year) and we already have snowbanks up the eaves of the garage and several times just this morning I stood holding a shovel piled high with snow and I had no idea where I was supposed to dump it.
And here it is early January, the holidays and school breaks over and the long winter has just begun to settle in, despite already surpassing our average annual snowfall. And people are starting to get grouchy, growing weary of moving snow from one place to another and that December holiday spirit seems to have fizzled from a show of brilliant twinkling multicolored lights to half a string of lights that will only glow if you find that one missing bulb…
Because winter in Northern Maine can be tough. Removing so much snow is hard work and some days we’d just like a break. A break from what often seems like such hard work just to carve out a good life up here, we’d gladly take a pause to lean on our shovels and have less work in front of us.
And as I leaned on my shovel last week, taking a minute to catch my breath and try not to feel overwhelmed with the work ahead of me, my next door neighbor came walking his snow blower up the street, turned into my driveway, and waving hello began clearing paths in my driveway. I suddenly had much less work in front of me as we finished in very little time, and with a wave good bye he went home. And with the extra time I had I saw no reason not to grab my roof rake, walk across the street and help my friendly neighbor finish pulling snow off her roof. It was cold, the conversation was wonderful, she made me laugh and I was reminded how good it felt to give it away.
From leaving an extra pan of dinner on my neighbor’s front step to hearing the late-night sound of his plow pushing my snow banks back, it’s all holiday spirit.
The Christmas and holiday season in Northern Maine is perfect. Sure, the lights are twinkling in December, the rolling hills are carpeted in a romantic shade of white and the church bells ringing remind you of something special, but there’s a holiday spirit in Northern Maine that seems to last the other 11 months and it has nothing to do with Christmas.
Or maybe it has everything to do with Christmas and that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be.
But I’m still keeping my tree up until March.
I’m too lazy to take it down It makes the kids happy and it somehow makes buying myself another pair of cute shoes every few weeks justifiable. What’s this under my tree? To me from me? You shouldn’t have…