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WOSTER: Here come the shadows of winter

Christmas Day is behind us, and in my book that means winter is really here.

I know, I know. Christmas isn't completely over. As the song says, Christmas has 12 days, and since the counting starts on Christmas Day, there are 11 days to go before it's over. Or at least before the purists, those sticklers for detail, say it's over.

I know, too, that winter has been here officially since sometime last Friday afternoon, at the moment of the winter solstice. In the interest of good reporting, I looked up the word solstice. The source said it's when the earth's poles are tilted farthest from the sun. If the earth is spinning and tilting on a pole, why doesn't it eventually just fall over, the way a child's toy top does? I used to try to see if I could spin a top so perfectly that it would never fall over. I couldn't, no matter how hard I tried. I know the earth doesn't act that way, but I don't understand why.

But that's off-topic. The thing is, the winter solstice and the "Twelve Days of Christmas'' are just formal designations. What I'm talking about is how I feel.

And how I feel is this: When Christmas Day is gone, winter truly is upon us. The weather forecasters seem to agree with me this year. They started talking about a post-Christmas storm more than a week ago.

As I grow older, January and February seem the longest and cruelest months of the year.

The poet T. S. Elliot said April is the cruelest month, which I never understood even when I was in college literature classes. I gather he found spring depressing, compared with winter. Well, we can agree to disagree on that. January is the cruelest month, even if it includes both my birthday and Elvis Presley's. February might well be cruelest save for the fact that it only lasts 28 days instead of 31. (And every four years it takes one more day to be cruel.)

January and February are odd months. The days grow longer every time the sun rises and sets, yet those months always seem to me to have short, dark and gloomy days and long, bleak and cold nights. The lengthening days started even before Christmas, but I rarely seem to notice it until almost March. Perhaps it's my attitude?

Perhaps it's the fact that I grow weary of the shadows of winter. I don't think the shortness of the days affects me in any serious way, but maybe it brings on a case of what medical experts call "the blahs.''

Some years ago at a holiday gathering, a group of us were talking about our general dislike of the darkness of winter days when an optometrist among us spoke up. "You don't like it? Hey, it's dark when I go to work. It's dark when I come home. In between, I sit in a dark room saying, "Number Two or Number Four? Two or Four? A little better? Not much difference? How about Three or Five?''

The group had to admit the guy had a point.

I suppose as much as anything, it's the storms and snow flurries, the 3- to 5-inch snow showers and the blizzards — or blizzard-like conditions, as some of the TV weather people will say now and then - that make January and February so uninviting to me. I've decided in recent years that the winter snow and wind create conditions good only for staying inside, which means developing a galloping case of cabin fever before spring's sun breaks through.

I didn't always feel that way. When I was younger, I paid little attention to winter. What young person does? I usually wore boots and a winter coat, but I didn't worry about roads or storms or getting stranded. Snow-packed road? Big deal. White-out? Whatever. I didn't even worry about getting cold. I didn't listen to the forecasts or my mom's pleas to be careful. I wasn't very bright. I was young.

Now I'm older. I'm not wiser in many ways, but I know enough to try to stay inside from now until March.