The festive season is upon us. The Christmas lights festoon the high street. Villages and towns are lit up like clusters of constellations across the countryside. The adverts are telling us, the shops are telling us, the school, the radio, our family are telling us. Christmas is happening.
I love the sense of wonder at this time of year, but it can so often become stressful. The expectation that we must spend, spend spend… buy presents (and get it right this year!), and have everything ready for the “Big Day”. Sometimes it can take over, and in amongst it all we forget to just stop and breathe and remind ourselves that we don’t NEED to put this pressure on ourselves.
But what I DO enjoy is the way everything becomes that little bit more sparkly and enchanting. Walking home past the houses on our street I love seeing how people have decorated their homes, each scene a little story about what Christmas means to them. The twinkling lights on the tree, the frosted art on the windows. There is a theatrical element to it all, as if we are setting the stage, ready to play our part in a worldwide seasonal celebration. I love this sense of unitedness. The stories that weave their way through the last days of the year. Stories that have been passed down from generation to generation. And whether we “believe” or not- it is tradition, for young and old, and there is something comforting about this.
But perhaps what matters most to me, isn’t the “Big Day”. It is in part ,the tasks and traditions. Collecting fire wood, stacking the log pile, making soups and stews, wearing wool and fleece. And it is the sense of being connected to the season. Noticing the changes; the robin that comes to the garden in search of food, the squirrels who look quite comical; twice their normal size with their thick fur and bushy tails! I find I need time in nature more than ever at this time of the year. In these short days, with less daylight and cold weather. When we retreat inside our homes, shutting the door on the outside world to be warm and cosy, perhaps this is when we all need some nature connection. To bring us into the “real” moments of Winter.
So this is the time of year I really embrace sea swimming!
This morning was my first swim of the month. Aside from being busy with the launch of my book, I’ve had the inevitable head cold that always arrives home with my youngest son from primary school in December. Storm Barra has also been busy making it’s way up the coast and there’s been no chance of swimming in these winds anyway! So all in all I’ve been disconnected from the wild remedy that keeps me grounded and I’ve been somewhat out of sorts. (Meanwhile Christmas has crept up on me just when I’m at a disadvantage!)
I’ll admit though; arriving at the beach this morning I didn’t feel 100%. I surveyed the conditions and despite the sun shining and waves only being around 2ft, there was a significant swell and a biting wind. My nose was running and my body gave an involuntary shiver. But as I made my way to the shelter of “our corner” by the pier, I was greeted by other swimmers and the atmosphere was more upbeat.
As we chatted and prepared to swim, there were others who hadn’t been in the water for a few weeks and we all agreed it was needed. Listening to my fellow swimmers I noted a common theme to the cold water therapy today; the topic of Christmas hard to ignore. Some had been ill and not able to get out to do any Christmas shopping and felt “left behind”, some had been busy at work trying to get projects finished in time for the Christmas deadline, one of the mums had a stressful school run having forgotten it was “Christmas Jumper” day and hadn’t bought a new jumper (and didn’t see the point in buying a new jumper just for one day anyway!).
As we entered the water we let out a huge roar in unison. What a release!! The chill hitting our bodies like pins and needles, intense pain soaring through our legs, arms, necks… and any thoughts or worries about Christmas and life on land forgotten. In this moment when your body is dealing with the stress of the cold temperature, you are in “fight” mode. As if under attack your body releases cortisol hormones, the heart rate increases and at the same time endorphins are released giving a rush of adrenaline and a high that (almost!) overrides the pain of the chill.
And while this is all happening, I feel every single sense is heightened. The sound of the waves and the seagulls, the winter sun, low in the sky, shining bright in your eyes, the smell of the salt water, the feel of the water as it carries me in the ebb and flow of the swell.
You are here. Now. In this moment, immersed in nature. And nothing else matters.
Afterwards as we rush to get dressed, numb fingers and bright pink skin, we are high from the experience. United by the joy of having a sea swim in winter. Each needed it. Each survived it. Each would do it again and again. Because whatever stress or grumbles we felt before, we no longer feel they are as important. This is the power of Nature.
As I sit here now, still in my Dryrobe, with two pairs of socks, fleece joggers and mittens, I am sparkling inside. I am smiling as I remember the scream as I entered the water. I am smiling as I think of us all dancing on the beach to warm up afterwards.
I am smiling because I know without a doubt Winter is here. That it is cold. That the temperatures have dropped. I know this because Nature tells me. The weather, the frosts, the short days, the long nights. The birds who have stayed, the wildlife that hunts hungrily, the plants that are hardy, the tree branches bare except for the evergreens… This tells me Winter is happening.
And with this natural declaration, a voice inside me whispers “I am ready”. Because SO much of what I love about this time of year, is the rhythm of the season. The cyclical nature of happenings and becomings. To witness these changes and acknowledge our place in the grand scheme of things. To give thanks for what we have. To come together and share in whatever way we can. To mark the ocassion and perform traditions that have been passed down through the ages, among the flora, fauna and folk.
With Nature as our host, we can always navigate where we are, and what matters. The endings, the beginnings. The present and the past. What we can look forward to. Traditions can still be embraced because of our heritage, our ancestors, our humble beginnings, but they don’t have to be materialistic.
Let’s just take a moment to recognise what is important, what is behind the scenes. Behind the theatre, the performance, what really matters?
We have reached another Winter. We are here, now. The world turns, no matter what. Seasons come and go. The nights, though long at this time of year, always give way to dawn. We are under the same Sun, the same Moon. We are part of something. A small part of something much much bigger than us.
Seas & Greetings to you all!
Girl Gone Wild x