Once more, Great Britain is in the midst of a pandemic of winter gloom; yes, the ‘January Blues’ have swept throughout our island, taking individuals and communities one-by-one. They cannot be cured by Lemsip or Strepsils and are characterised by lethargy, a sense of joylessness, and cabin fever in day-to-day life.
All of us suffer from the “January Blues” to a greater or lesser extent. Indeed, it is almost expected that as the dark nights return and the sunny summer evenings fade in our memories, we should retreat into our homes feeling miserable. Christmas is over and, as such, our houses look barren without the profusion of baubles, tinsel, and other festive clutter which decorated our houses throughout December. We are back at work, and joyous background carols are replaced by a cacophony of sniffles, coughs, and sighs. The cupboards, previously full of delicious festive food, are barren and, as such, the pounds have piled on. Our jeans stretch and strain as we dress each morning, and yet comfort eating seems the only short-term fix for our gloom. And, what is more, we have all, if we are honest, already broken our overly optimistic New Year’s resolutions. Curled upon the sofa we try (but usually fail) to continue with “Dry January” whilst following a strict detox diet with little success. None of us can truly claim to have run the twenty miles a day which seemed so possible on 1 January, neither have we managed to give up all sweet treats and smoking or wasted less time scrolling and re-refreshing Facebook in the hope that we might find some groundbreaking news which will brighten our day. But these failures only make us feel worse about ourselves. Katherine Mansfield’s lyrical lines of poetry “snow and sleet, and sleet and snow, will the winter never go?” epitomise the doom and gloom which has struck the population.
And yet, this winter, our hopes were raised by the superhero who has come to Britain claiming that his special powers would enable him to lift the nation out of the ‘January Blues’. This superhero is dressed in a woollen jumper, speaks Danish, and carries candles and hot chocolate; he is known as “Hygge”. “Hygge” is a phenomenon which has swept across Britain this winter – it was even named the Collins English Dictionary word of the year – and is part of what perhaps could be termed “Scandimania”, the obsession with all things Scandinavian. This imported concept is most akin to the English word “cosiness” and is the idea that small comforts and the creation of a warm indoor atmosphere can engender a feeling of contentment despite the dark and dreary days and nights. Snuggling up around a cosy fire with a book and enjoying spending time with loved ones is certainly appealing, but it seems that this is in fact rather idealistic. Our day-to-day lives are instead characterised by the monotony of work, scraping ice off our cars each morning (and then busier roads, meaning that our commute takes even longer), and the death-like pallor of our complexions. Therefore, it seems that rather than helping us through the dark winter days, the “Hygge” trend engenders a sense of inadequacy and disappointment. Our homes and lives fail to meet the idyll portrayed by the interior photos found in magazines and described in blogs characterised by fairy lights and beautiful fireplaces.
I would instead contend that us Brits need to feel sorry for ourselves in the winter months, and there is a sense of self-pitying pleasure which derives from the “January Blues” deeply engrained in our culture. This is not to belittle those who struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder, for whom the winter months can be a real struggle, but rather to note the heightened joy experienced when spring (and then summer) eventually dawn following the cold and dark winter days.
The first snowdrops and daffodils which peek out signalling the beginning of spring, the longer hours of sunshine, and the (slowly) increased warmth of the sun can only be fully enjoyed because of the contrast with the winter months which have just passed.
It seems that the “January Blues” are just part of the annual cycle; they cannot be avoided or cured. The words of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Dirge for the Year” ring true:
“January gray is here,
Like a sexton by her grave;
February bears the bier,
March with grief doth howl and rave,
And April weeps — but, O ye hours!
Follow with May’s fairest flowers!”
So, fellow St Andreans – relish what is left of the “January Blues.” Only then will you be able to truly enjoy the delights of spring and summer.