I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December
A magical thing
And sweet to remember
“We are closer to Spring
than we were in September”
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December
Snowflakes. Making snowmen. Ice-skating. Sipping a cup of mulled wine in the park or hot chocolate by the window, watching the fluffy, gorgeous snowflakes line the city, and everything is oh so pretty. Snuggled by the fireplace, dreaming of making your first snow angel. “You’re SO lucky,” everyone tells you. “You’re living in a winter wonderland!”
And you think so too, at first. Coming from tropical Singapore, the first time I saw snow I ran out onto the streets in absolute excitement. It was in Beijing, and it was a light, smog-addled, are-you-sure-it’s-really-snowing, barely there kind of snow. But it was snow, it was new to me, and I was thrilled.
A few years later I’d find myself living in Moscow, where there’s hardly any summer but winter has no end. The capital begins to freeze over early – a few weeks after I arrived in September. It began to snow, and it snows a lot. Shiny, sparkly snow on some days, big fat fluffy snowflakes on others. Snow fun for rolling around in, and going sledding on, and perfectly frozen lakes for ice-skating. I was living the winter dream, doing all the things you see in the movies. “This is fun,” I thought. “Winter is my favourite thing!”
Except that on some days it’s too cold to go outside. Except some days, the sun doesn’t rise. Except on the days when it does, and the temperature rises just above freezing, bringing your hardened, ice-cold heart and expectations with it – and then it freezes over again, and the streets that were covered in snow are now covered in ice. Even the most seasoned Russians slip on the snow now and then, and when you see it happen you know you haven’t a chance.
That first time I fell on a slick pavement, swearing loudly in front of unfazed locals? That’s when I fell out of love with winter.
The perfect, pristine dusting of snow accumulates, and it grows, gradually, into giant mounds of snow that various armies of snow-shovelling individuals generously serve as they get the damn snow out of the way. These giant mounds of snow stay there, forever. They turn grey with dirt and soot. Those mounds then become trash beds full of cigarettes and beer bottles, hastily discarded along with the city’s collective hopes and dreams. And they sit. They wait. Just like you sit and wait for spring. And the mounds never go away, and spring never seems to come. It’s now December, and we’re creeping closer to the darkest day of the year. There’s a long way to go yet.
Steal My Sunshine
In the deepest, darkest days of winter in Moscow, the sun rises at 10am. They say 10am, but it’s really more like 12pm before it’s properly bright, relatively speaking. It’s not the Singapore sunshine I know and love. Not the sort of sunshine that could give you a tan, make you sweat, burn the skin of the conservatively pigmented. Just a vague ball of light that has no business taking itself seriously, lingering in the distance like that weird guy at a party who blends inconsequentially into the walls.
The so-called sun takes its time creeping up ever so slightly above the horizon. It glances at you, unimpressed and disinterested, and then makes an unexpectedly hasty retreat. By the time it’s 4pm, it’s almost dark. And that’s the whole day, gone. When you get to school or work, it’s dark. When you leave, it’s dark, too. As a creature who loves the night I thought I’d enjoy it. What could be more fun than days, weeks, months, of night, right?
After about a week without sun, winter depression kicked in, hard. Seasonal Affective Disorder, they call it. SAD. Just imagine Trump tweeting about it. “Depressed because of winter? SAD!”
In the interest of self-care I did my research and looked into getting special solar lights. “Where might I get one of those lights you can use at home to manage winter depression?” I asked.
My question was met with peals of condescending Ruskii laughter. “That’s what we have vodka for.”
Of course it is. Slowly, but very clearly, everything you’ve heard about Russia and have found to be true begins to make sense.
It’s February now and not for the first time I had started to drink, alone, at home, unshowered and without any ambition or plans whatsoever, stripped of any joy in my heart or sparkle in my eye, consistently despondent and sans mirth. There’s plenty to do, but no desire to do it. Instead of running out into the snow and twirling about as if I were a young Winona Ryder in Edward Scissorhands, I crave the sun, deeply, desperately. Truth is, I probably wouldn’t get out of bed to greet the sun even if it made the odd appearance. I’d already stopped caring.
This is the stage where you don’t care what you wear, or how you look, or about the fact that you might be half-drunk before 4pm, or that you feel like you’re slowly losing it. I know, it all sounds very dramatic. I guess I never realise how much I literally needed the sun, until the sun wasn’t there for me to take for granted.
Seasonal depression doesn’t come through from a #winterwonderland Instagram series, empty bottles are easily hidden away from your #bedroom #netflixandchill moments. Your faithful followers think your #wineandchocolate photos are dessert; little do they know, that was lunch, and likely dinner.
But then one day, the sun stays in the sky for a little longer than it did the day before. And then a little longer. And then you remember what daytime means. It’s March now, and I’ve officially survived my first Russian winter.
It came close to winning, but the sun continues to rise. Well played, Russian Winter. But hope, as they say, springs eternal.