On the shortest day of the year, lower your expectations and let yourself hate the winter gloom if you want

Erin Alberty • From the top of Ensign Peak at dawn, contemplating the day “when cold, dark and alone is a fine way to exist.”

(Erin Alberty | Salt Lake Tribune) Solstice brings a blueish dawn to Ensign Peak on Dec. 17, 2017.

It’s 7:30 a.m. and the blue hour before dawn is lingering.

Dec. 21 is a day of blue hours. The lowest sun of the year. Not long from now it’ll be over. Sunset is 5:03 p.m. A lot of us won’t see daylight today.

I’m catching it here at Ensign Peak, where I can see the clouds parting to cobalt in the distant sky. Mine are the first footsteps in yesterday’s snow, apart from deer tracks. It is cold and dark, and I’m alone.

Let this be a day when cold, dark and alone is a fine way to exist.

It is hard for those of us who love winter to understand how much of a struggle it is for people who don’t. We see the first snowflakes and feel the electricity of adventure. We see night fall earlier and earlier, and we think of holidays and togetherness and a cozy glow made warmer by darkness.

We don’t feel the heaviness weighing on the people around us, the people who stepped into dusk on the first afternoon of standard time and felt like they’d been punched and robbed — and knew they would feel that way for months to come.

In the past I might have chalked it up to an attitude problem. When I first came to Salt Lake City a decade ago, I would have said, “How can you hate winter? You’re in Utah! Learn to ski! Get snowshoes! Appreciate the majesty!”

But the truth is, even well short of seasonal affective disorder, a lot of people are scraping their reserves of coping resources. The holiday frenzy, with its expectations of cheer and company, doesn’t help everyone. It can be so exhausting to feel obliged to act the opposite of how you really feel, right when you are most drained.

A dear friend of mine hails from northern Norway, where the sun doesn’t rise all winter. The sky shifts briefly from black to dark navy and then black again. And again, and again. She described it as peaceful. You light a candle, drink tea and read. People sleep a lot. Less is expected.

The traditions of Scandinavian winter, popularly known as the Danish “hygge,” or “coziness,” have trended in the United States as a system of solutions. Get some pretty lamps and fairy lights — but mind your Kelvins; only warm light is soothing. Snuggle up in warm sweaters and abundant throw blankets — but make sure they are bulky and spun from natural fibers. Make dinner with friends — but nothing too fancy, nothing processed. Comfort is key, and by God, it looks and feels and tastes a certain way.

We Americans traffic in enterprise, in strategy. “Hygge” becomes one more thing you have to do right.

Wouldn’t it be nice if, just for this one day, our only obligation was to be?

One day to not measure whether we’re happy enough. One day to sit with the cold and dark and let it be oppressive, ethereal, uncomfortable, cozy, lonely, inspiring, ugly, beautiful.

Here on Ensign Peak, silhouettes are gaining definition, and the fresh snow is reflecting streaks of violet in the sky. Lights are turning on in the city below. People are stepping into solstice, our darkest day.

If all we have to show for it is that we’re still here tomorrow, that’s enough.

(Erin Alberty | Salt Lake Tribune) Solstice brings a blueish dawn to Ensign Peak.