always thought Christina Rosetti got the words for winter
better than just about anybody else:
In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty in wind made moan.
Earth stood hard as iron
Water like a stone.
Talk is cheap, though. In reality, winter’s a real misery
for the flesh.
It’s December, which is my favorite month, other than July
when things are warm and days are long. But this December
the cold has come on so strong, so early that I feel myself
gearing up for a five-month-long stretch of complaining. Normally
I restrict myself to four, beginning just after New Year’s
when everybody else is already grouchy.
Because this early brutal chilliness is violating the code
of what should and should not happen in December. December
is supposed to be a genial month, a month of Winter, Lite.
Or at least Winter, the postcard.
It’s acceptable, more or less, when the really nasty stuff
comes in January. After all, people weren’t meant to live
in upstate New York—or anywhere much north of the Mason-Dixon
line—in January unless they had fireplaces and hot tubs and
heated garages and attractive long underwear and friends who
don’t talk about the wonders of skiing and all the makings
for several months’ worth of hot buttered rums.
And who’s got all that, anyway?
But there are things that just should not happen in December.
Only they are.
For example, there should not be a layer of ice over the six
inches of unraked oak leaves in my backyard. This is wrong.
Nor should there be snow blanketing them, assuring that, in
the distant future when spring actually arrives (and the beauty
is that it always does, eventually), my yard will become a
breeding ground for thick and juicy slugs.
There should not be the need for the high-powered, high-priced
Lancôme moisturizer until after the New Year. Because nobody
should have to fight their way to a makeup counter in a shopping
mall until the Christmas shopping frenzy subsides. Until then,
Ponds—$4.50 at Hannaford—ought to be enough. But it’s only
the first week in December and my cheeks hurt when I smile.
Which I am doing less and less of because the other thing
about December that is not supposed to be happening is that
I keep finding myself in my cold Camry wagon driving my daughters
to school so that Linnea’s hands don’t freeze to the trombone
case and Maddie doesn’t turn blue wearing just her corduroy
jacket—fashion trumps warmth every time.
What shouldn’t happen in December is that you go on an out-of-town
trip and you lose one, only one, of your gloves right at the
outset and can’t really swing the cost of a new pair since
the pressing need for Lancôme moisturizer is putting a crimp
in your budget.
What shouldn’t happen in December is that temperature drops
below your shoe size for even one day.
What shouldn’t happen in December is that the wind chill turns
your woolen clothes to frozen aluminum foil against your skin.
You shouldn’t have to wear clodhopper boots, or quilted down
parkas or Toastie Toes on your socks or thermal long johns
You shouldn’t have to wear a balaclava to go buy a Christmas
These are the things that should not happen in December.
On the other hand, because I am not in fact a grouse, but
rather someone passionately dedicated to a high quality of
life, I’m happy to tell you what should happen in December.
Because after all, next to July, December is really a pretty
You should be able to wear high heels when you go out to dinner
In December, you should still be able to entertain the idea
that maybe you will, after all, learn to ice skate.
You should be able to shop outside in December. You should
be able to stroll around outside drinking a cup of Starbucks
hot chocolate with a grand tuft of whipped cream on top of
it. You should be able to kiss outside in December.
What should happen in December is that there should be an
afternoon when the sun is dazzling and so bright you can actually
feel the radiance on your face. And then it begins to snow—yes,
I like a little bit of snow now and then—and the snow is powdery
and the sun turns it into millions of shards of light. And
then the wind blows, but only just enough to make the light
shards shift and dance before settling on branches and on
the bare—and leafless—ground.
You should be able to go outside in December and lay out flat
in the snow to make lovely and terrifying snow angels. And
you should be able to do this without even considering how
cold your bottom will be by the time you’ve finished carefully
flapping your angel wings.
You should be able to pour grade B dark amber maple syrup
on the snow and eat a handful from your mitten without even
thinking twice about impending slush or air pollution.
What should happen in December is that you have people over
for dinner, and when you open up the door to let them in,
they sweep in on a gust of cold air rich with the smoky aroma
from your own fireplace. What should happen in December is
that you hand them upward, opening glasses of champagne and
little packages wrapped in tissue paper and leave Christmas
crackers at each of their plates, which pop open to disgorge
their fortune-teller fish and folded paper hats and little
plastic rings and keychains and predictions for the coming
And what should happen in December is that—later, much later—when
the guests leave, you sit in the dark of the living room,
with just firelight and candlelight, and the sound of shifting
logs or the breathing of loved ones is all that you can or
want to hear.
These are the things that should happen in December. And maybe,
if there is any kind of winter wisdom, they can happen in
can contact Jo Page at email@example.com.