By my estimation, every year has two rough stretches. There’s that interminable spot from the end of July to early September, when pleasant summer warmth has given way to humid heat and lukewarm rain, and there’s the period that lasts from the middle of January — when the holiday joy fog has evaporated — until the beginning of March, when all of the East Coast is gray and bitter cold, and the only decorations we have are the piles of blackened snow on sidewalks.
This period of the year stinks. Empirically. According to a piece in the Washington Post’s “Wonkblog” in 2014, search terms like “anxiety,” “depression,” and “fatigue” peaked in the period that stretches from late January to early March. There’s even a subset of depression called winter depression that tends to take hold in these months. But we can fix this, at least in part, by making the biggest change to the calendar since we switched over from the Julian reckoning.
We can move Christmas.
Imagine a future where February is no longer the bleakest month. Virtually none of your friends are texting you about their Seasonal Affective Disorder, and instead of abject misery, the air is filled with cheer. New Year’s and Thanksgiving are only a couple of months in the rear-view, and you have given yourself enough space to sustain and perhaps even enjoy another holiday family gathering, instead of experiencing it twice in one month. And soon, the weather will break, and Easter will not be far. There is no longer any joy desert in the most lonesome and exhausting months of the year. And winter break for schools has finally become just that: a break in the winter that ends in a big ol’ party on Jan. 1, with no travel obligations.
Winter has been corrected at the cost of moving Christmas from Dec. 25 to Feb. 7.
For what it’s worth, it’s not like we don’t have some historical precedence for this. We don’t know what month Jesus was born in, obviously. We don’t even know the year. Historically, several months have been given as his birth month. We use Dec. 25 because when ancient Rome was Christianizing, it was trying to paper over the holiday Saturnalia, which was a week-long throwdown, the kind of bawdy, drunken insanity that wouldn’t have much of a place in a new Catholic reality.
The Christmas date essentially is arbitrary — an ancient pagan cover-up, and not a very good one at that, since a boatload of traditions made it into the new holiday, including gift-giving, candle-lighting, and decorating with wreaths. If Christmas was just sort of heaped onto a solstice celebration before, we can absolutely change it now.
This is not intended to be an assault on the meaning of Christmas. The holiday can retain almost all of its religious connotations; moving it to early February wouldn’t change the Holy Calendar that dramatically, and Lent and Easter would still both be squarely in place. This proposal is made out of respect for Christmas.
As it stands, Christmas is the center of the holiday season, from Halloween to New Year’s Day. But it could be so much more. Beyond the putrid reality of consumer capitalism, Christmas is one of the few cultural forces that grants, for the most part, comfort and warmth. The power of Christmas is vast and gravitational, and if we shifted it down a month, its joyful radiation could better propel us through the dead of winter.