As we enter the seasonal winter break for a second difficult year, it’s hard to imagine ever being the other side of this pandemic. With growing number of infections, in this time of dark evenings and cold temperatures in the northern hemisphere, we feel the need to stay safe and protected. The season we call winter happens where the tilt of the earth is furthest away from the sun. Almost all religions and cultures in temperate climates have some way of celebrating this time of year by giving, feasting and being kind to others. The roots of this festival go back to when our ancestors celebrated the shortest day and longest night of the year; a time when people were completely dependent on their knowledge of the changing seasons for survival. The winter months were cold and dark and food was scarce. Livestock was slaughtered to eat and wine and beer would be ready to celebrate what it meant to be alive in the heart of midwinter.
In the developed world, most of us are lucky enough to live at a time when there’s ready access to food, heat and light, although the commercial influence of what we celebrate today may have drifted some distance from the origins of this annual festival.
Although it’s not all joy and happiness for everyone as research shows that many people suffer from stress, anxiety and depression at this time of year. The changing seasons, like the onset of winter, can affect our moods. Given the darkness, cold, wet weather and scarcity of food most of our ancestors experienced, this is not surprising. Within the body, the reduction in sunlight affects the production of the neurotransmitter, serotonin, which, among other things, contributes to our wellbeing and happiness. This is why people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder are often prescribed lightboxes that simulate sunlight.