I have a theory that two seldom appreciated forces have dramatically shaped human history: (1) the effect of seasonal change on affect and (2) PMS. Today, I’ll talk about seasonal affective changes.
It’s the beginning of October and the days are noticeably shorter. For me, they’ve been noticeably shortening since around, oh, June 21 or so (the longest day of the year). After that, I can feel the amount of light we get each day decreasing steadily, but around this time of year, things really get nasty: the darkening accelerates. Next stop: December 21 or so, the shortest, shittiest day of the year. After that I feel a bit better, until January comes and I realize that “summer” is a long, long way off. It comes around May in this latitude (47.45), though April is often OK. From there, everything is great until June 21-ish (the summer solstice), because the solstice reminds me that, going forward, each day will be shorter and shorter.
It’s odd to me that “new years” isn’t on the summer solstice. I’m sure there are historical reasons for this, such as that human beings (in Europe at least) have always been relieved when they survived the winter, and so counted the “new year” from the day they survived the old one. I believe I’ve read that, often, folks were shocked when the world continued after about December 21st. I’m often shocked about it as well. That’s the low point of the year, which means that, when you stick the New Year around that point, it doesn’t feel very fun. It’s like having your birthday on the same date you remember the death of your favorite pet. “Happy Birthday! Oh…and this is the day Snowball was killed in that accident with the Cuisinart.”
Conceptualizing the year this way—shortest and shittiest at the beginning—gives it an upside down bell-curve shape. To me, at least. You were on the mountaintop, in the middle of summer, then slowly you slid down, down, down into this trough, finally reaching equilibrium at the very bottom: the winter solstice. Then you climb up that greased slope toward summer. Happy New Year! Have another drink and some fruit cake.
Fuck that. I would prefer the mirror image: the new year starts on top of a regular bell-curve, not an inverted one. That’s that summer solstice. You’re on top of the mountain at that point. Celebrate. Tear off your clothes and mount something. Run around and drink mead. Put flowers in your hair. Sacrifice something that doesn’t feel pain—a tuber or a large squash, maybe. Sure, you’ll slide down into that trough eventually. After all, seasons are like waves: up, down; up, down; up, down. But at least put the good part in the middle of the diagram, so we can focus on the positive.