December 21, my favorite day of the year. Not because it's cold, gray, rainy and gloomy. It's my favorite because after December 21, the days start getting longer now. Roughly three minutes more of light each day, glory hallelujah.
Back when I was in high school, SAD Syndrome hadn't been invented, but I didn't need a name for the way I felt in the fall. As daylight inexorably, diminished, so did my stores of cheer and energy, and by the first day of winter, I felt as if I were sitting in a dark cave, and that the sun might soon vanish altogether. Of course I knew it wouldn't. But I felt as if it would. Just get to December 21, I told myself. Then the world would start getting better.
Do you know Seattle is closer to Santa's workshop than Maine? This time of year, the sun sets before a quarter to five, but what with our classic ultra-bleak Pacific Northwest weather, it's dark most days by four o'clock. To get around the winter blahs, someone advised me to set up lights in my bedroom which would go on about the time the sun rises in the summer. But all that did was wake me up at 5:30am, leaving me even crankier. Even worse, they woke my wife at 5:30am, making her...you get the picture. Cure worse than disease.
But what grabs you in real life is grist for the fictional mill. Here's a passage from The Music Box Murders, my first mystery novel. The speaker is Dr. Thomas Purdue, neurologist, music box enthusiast, amateur detective, New Yorker:
Late December, the sun extinguished by half past four in the afternoon, purple darkness deepening by the moment. I felt as if the whole world were dying an unreasonable and premature death...
It was five o'clock and pitch black...Off to my left I heard music...There was Rockefeller Center, down at the far end of that Art Deco channel of shops. In front of the building, the gigantic decorated Christmas tree swayed in the wind. I shoved my hands into my coat pockets, crossed the street, and made my way down the corridor, shops to my right, row of white-wire herald angels with golden trumpets directed skyward on my left. Directly past a little espresso stand, I came to the observation platform above the ice-skating rink...
I tightened my grip on the rail. Out there below the Christmas tree, my mind's eye saw a semicircle of half-erect, hairy men and women wearing rough-cut animal skins, gathered around a massive bonfire. The people raised their arms, following the sweep of the flames up toward the statue of Prometheus. They shouted, they screamed. They implored the sun not to go away forever and leave them in eternal icy darkness.
Well, it does seem to work, every year. I take heart from that. Besides, I guess if every day were a sunny day, what would a sunny day mean?