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It's the turning point
On the missed opportunity to embrace the depths of the cold and celebrate warmer days ahead
Somewhere between freezing and 40° below zero is the temperature at which cold becomes becomes truly excruciating. The Fahrenheit system may not be particularly logical in its endpoints and gradations, but it wouldn't be entirely unreasonable to say that this temperature is 0° or thereabouts. After all, 72° is the perfect temperature, but if you add 32° to it, then 104° is indisputably hot.
■ For most of the United States east of the Rockies, middle to late January is the coldest time of year. And just as we look forward to the winter solstice as the moment when brighter days are quite literally ahead, so too should we mark late January as a turning point between the worst of the cold and things finally becoming warmer.
■ It's a shame, given the significant influence of Nordic immigration on the northern United States, that we don't have many large-scale annual community celebrations surrounding the depths of Winter. Chicago was once the second-largest "Swedish" city in the world. More than one in every nine Norwegians moved to the US in the 1880s alone. Iceland lost a fifth of its people to America.
■ There may be a few ice festivals here and there -- St. Paul, Minnesota, and some smaller communities put them on in Colorado and Michigan, but it really doesn't seem like we make use of the full potential of the turning of the coldest part of the year as a way to mark that the worst is generally over.
■ Any northern city worth its road salt ought to have some way of celebrating the middle of winter -- a sort of polar bear plunge for the soul. And for the sake of authenticity, it should largely take place outdoors. It's important to embrace the pain of the cold rather than running from it. The psychiatrist Viktor Frankl concluded that humans need to embrace the experience of suffering as a normal part of life in order to have a well-rounded experience on planet Earth.
■ Frankl wrote that "[M]eaning is possible even in spite of suffering -- provided, certainly, that the suffering is unavoidable. If it were avoidable, however, the meaningful thing to do would be to remove its cause, be it psychological, biological or political. To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic." Global warming notwithstanding, winter is going to remain cold whether we like it or not. There's no reason that embracing an invigorating cold season shouldn't be part of celebrating that, for most of us, warmer seasons will come.
■ Just as the Swedes combine cold outdoor bathing with their hot saunas, and the Icelanders enjoy their geothermal hot springs, so too should Americans be willing to engage both the cold and the warmth. We don't have any trouble finding excuses to go inside, but we need more practice in embracing what nature does to expose us.