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WOSTER: Christmas in February could help break up winter

Terry Woster, Daily Republic Columnist  When I was a kid, I often thought that Christmas, instead of being celebrated in December, should be observed in late January or early February to break up the long northern plains winters.

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Come on. Don’t tell me you never thought that. I understand that changing the date would mess up a lot of things. The calendar is pretty well set. And I don’t intend, and didn’t even as a child, to get into an argument of the actual birth date of Christ. My thinking on a later Christmas was based on nothing more than a desire for a major-league festive celebration smack in the middle of the winter season.

Sure, Lincoln’s birthday is in there. We could party it up over that, I suppose, but it would take a strong public-relations campaign and a crackerjack ad wizard — unless we made it a vampire deal like in the recent movie, and I’m told that wasn’t true.

No, a proper break from winter would require Christmas, and here was my thinking as a kid:

Winter begins on Dec. 21 most years. It starts on Dec. 22 now and then, but usually it’s Dec. 21, just four days before Christmas. This year winter ends on March 19. We’ve gotten to Christmas and we’re still 80-some days from the end of winter. If Christmas were celebrated the first week of February, the bleak winter would be broken nearly in half by a bright, happy celebration.

I know, there’s that whole 12 days of Christmas thing. But let’s be real. Once the day is over, it’s nothing but winter stretching out forever. I’m reminded of Keats’ poem, “The Eve of St. Agnes,” which begins, “Ah, bitter chill it was! The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold; The hare limp’d trembling through the frozen grass, and silent was the flock in woolly fold: Numb were the Beadsman’s fingers, while he told his rosary” and so on. When is the last time anyone described a cold winter’s night that simply and convincingly? And doesn’t it sound like some of the nights we’ve been experiencing?

Maybe those who don’t read the Romantic poets don’t worry so much about winter and rabbits and owls and cold churches. Too late for me to change that. Too late, I suppose, to change Christmas, too, but maybe we could start the conversation?

Look, this year simply proves my point. I don’t have to tell you that recently the weather outside has been, well, frightful. With winter collapsing all around a guy, bringing snows and winds and below-zero temperatures and mind-numbing wind-chill readings, it takes more than just a strong plains-dweller spirit to stride briskly off to work each morning. My Irish-Bohemian stock is as sturdy as anybody’s, but many recent days I’ve paused at the back door before stepping into the winter chill to head for the office. Sometimes all that made it the least bit tolerable was the thought that Christmas would soon arrive. If I had that to carry me through January, that month (cruelest of them all, never mind what T.S. Eliot said about April) might not seem so long. Instead, some mornings I see the below-zero temperature and wonder if I could just email a retirement note to the boss.

Here’s the deal about the Christmas through January period: While the first day of winter is the shortest day of the year, it isn’t necessarily the coldest. There’s a thing called a temperature lag. I think I read that on a National Weather Service site. The temperature lag means that even though the days start getting longer, the earth continues to cool, losing more energy than it picks up from the additional minutes of sunlight.

That’s why January can be a long, bitter period, the same way late July can be hotter than June 21, the start of summer.

At this point, the coldest part of the season likely lies ahead. Given the recent temperatures, that’s not comforting. These old bones and joints don’t take the cold as well as they once did. It would help if Christmas were still ahead. Another round of gifts wouldn’t hurt, either.