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Welcome to the dark half of the year
The pleasures, challenges and magic of autumn and winter
Saturday was the autumn equinox, which means we are now in the dark half of the year. Winter, as the saying goes, is coming. Nights are drawing in, bringing cosy evenings, woolly jumpers, spooky stories and warming teas.
My youngest daughter is a massive fan of the season. She has spent the last few weeks embracing an autumnal vibe that is one part Insta, one part DNA. Her room is decorated with plush pumpkins, looping orange and golden garlands, and comforting blankets and throws. Yes, pumpkin spice lattes also seem to be playing a significant part in proceedings (we have at least two bottles of syrup in the larder) and The Gilmore Girls is playing on loop, but she’s also excited for midwinter, seeing the bright lights of Christmas on the horizon.
The influence of social media is evident, that search for a perfect hygge aesthetic, but, as I said, there’s also some hard-wired DNA at play. I adore autumn and winter. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing more joyful than the sights and sounds of spring or warm summer days, but the dark side of the year is my happy place. Colder days bring a sense of old, wild magic, which, admittedly, has much to do with my love of ghost stories and All Hallow’s Eve.
“Autumn and winter are when I feel most alive, most contented, and definitely most creative.”
But it’s more than that. It’s Narnia and the Box of Delights, Ghost Stories at Christmas and being scared in the cosiest way possible with Doctor Who. (I still always associate the good Doctor with autumn and winter, even if it’s mainly broadcast in spring these days!)
A season to be creative
Beyond the nostalgia of the stories I loved as a kid, there’s the romance of breaking out the chunky knits, wrapping a scarf around your neck and crunching through brittle leaves on your morning walk. It’s a warm bowl of soup or a thick stew bubbling on the stove. Autumn and winter are when I feel most alive, most contented, and definitely most creative. There’s a reason I usually write with the sound of rain pounding against windows in my ears, even on the hottest, driest day of summer when it’s thirty degrees outside.
But I realise the season isn’t for everyone and many miss the sun. Autumn can feel like a slowly closing trap when nights press in and it’s unsafe to go outside. It can feel isolating. Lonely. Long. And then there are those who don’t share the privileges I take for granted, who would love to enjoy a warm, cosy lounge covered in weighted blankets but are literally out in the cold, enduring freezing conditions at home or on the streets. If you can afford it, there are some wonderful charities out there who support those who face a bleak winter. In the United Kingdom, I recommend Shelter, Age UK, The Trussell Trust and, in my home town, Caring in Bristol.
A harvest festival
So what other advice can this self-proclaimed lover of autumn and winter give to get the most out of the dark months to come?
Well, first and foremost, autumn is a chance to give thanks, to reflect on the last six months, acknowledge the hardships and celebrate the wins. To celebrate the harvest.
Ask yourself what bounty your creative endeavours have produced. What did you achieve? What are the fruits of your labours? Yes, the work may have been hard at points, the weather turning against you, but there is always something to be thankful for, moments of gratitude you can store away for when you need it most, warmth on the coldest days.
Capture winter magic
As with any new season, the dark side of the year brings the opportunity to begin a new project, to hunker down and conjure winter magic. Is there a story you could bring to life as the days grow short? Or what about that hobby you never seem to have time to explore? Is that what could see you through winter, when there’s less inclination to step outside?
Replenish and renew
Of course, you may need winter to recharge and recover. This could be the time to read some of those books you’ve been continually adding to your reading pile or to catch up with the TV shows and films you’ve missed, turning down the lights and losing yourself in a story. You can indulge yourself over winter, feasting on the creative reserves you’ve stashed away like a squirrel returning to its cache beneath the snow. It could be your time to slow down, to replenish and renew, to conserve energy and dream dreams so you’re ready for when the world wakes again.
The hope of spring
And if you need a sign of hope in the bleakest days, find a wintering tree. It may look skeletal and diminished, stripped of its colour and vitality, but it contains the promise of spring. Look at the buds on the branches. They were formed when the sun was at its brightest and contain all the leaves, flowers and potential of the season to come. Trees in winter aren’t dead; they are full of life, packed tight and waiting patiently for the sun to return, ready to burst out as the birds start singing and the bees bumble. Ready to start again.
So, how are you planning to spend the dark half of the year? Is it a season you love or loathe? Are there any hobbies or creative endeavours you plan to see you through to spring? And what are your tips and hints for surviving winter? Let us know in the comments.