Take Heart, January Is Nearly Over

Judith Valente
4 min readJan 21, 2024
A frozen lake with reeds growing up from snowy ground.
The month of January can be like a prolonged endurance test. This January is proving particularly potent. (Photo by J. Alden Marlatt)

As a child, I felt cheated by having a birthday in January. My friends born in warmer months could celebrate with backyard parties and barbecues. My birthday parties were small indoor affairs with my parents, brother and sister at the cramped kitchen table in our home in New Jersey.

T.S. Eliot once called April the cruelest month for fooling us with balmy days that can swiftly swing into snow showers. January might not be the cruelest month, but it can be daunting — a prolonged endurance test. I once worked for an editor in the Chicago bureau of The Wall Street Journal who bought his wife a gift for each of January’s 31 days to ease her through the month.

This January is certainly proving potent. The other day, I stepped outside when the temperature was -4 Fahrenheit. A 20-mile-an-hour wind stabbed my face. My breath streamed like vapor pouring from a smokestack, and the cold cramped my hands. Still, when I stepped back inside, a different feeling took over.

I felt oddly exhilarated. I had faced a challenge and overcome it. January will do that. It will show you how to persevere. It will prove how tough you are.

When my Benedictine oblate group met recently on Zoom, the weather was a “hot” topic as almost everyone’s location was experiencing snow and record low temperatures. Poet that she is, our oblate director asked each of us to reflect on what we find engaging about winter.

Some cited the seaon’s stillness, finding in it welcome relief from the more active pace of spring, summer and autumn. Others named the comforting scent of a wood-burning fireplace, or the chance to sit inside beneath a warm blanket, reading a book and sipping a cup of tea.

Several pointed to the mesmerizing quiet of a snowfall, the peacefulness of a fresh snowscape.

I chose the spare beauty and bare architecture of trees in winter that allow us to see farther into the distance.

View through a window to outside snowscape with a set of different size decorative blue bottles on a window sill and a single electric candle.
Something to remember about January is that it pilots us into lenghtening days and takes the first halting steps toward spring. (Photo by Pat Leyko Connelly)

Surely things could be worse elsewhere. Alaskans have hardly seen daylight since the Winter Solstice on December 21. Alaska’s northernmost city — Utqiaġvik, formerly known as Barrow — endures near-constant darkness from mid-to-late November until the end of January. Some Alaskans cope by using light therapy lamps and taking massive doses of Vitamin D to compensate for the lack of sun. Anti-depressants can help, and for some so does a fair amount of alcohol (though I’m not recommending it!).

Scandanavians have invented a whole tradition around winter nesting. The word for it, hygge, connotes creating a comfortable, consoling atmosphere. It involves candles, nubby woolens, warm slippers, woven textiles, special pastries and foods, blond wood, sheepskin rugs, lattes with milk-foam hearts, and a warm fireplace.

An intriguing hygge tradition — one I think we should adopt in the U.S. — is to tip your hat or give another form of greeting to any hardy soul you pass in the street on a cold winter’s day or night.

Perhaps what’s most important to remember about January is that it pilots us toward spring. It leans into lengthening days. Out of sight, new growth is gestating deep within the January earth. “Silence, love this growth,” Thomas Merton writes in one of his most famous poems, “Love Winter When the Plant Says Nothing.”

“The arrival of a new year comes with all the expectations of a new child,” singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer wrote recently in her “A Gathering of Spirits” blog.

Children prove incredibly resilient. We do, too. But for now, wrapped in what Carrie calls “the snowy prayer shawl of January,” we keep still. We train our gaze on small moments of beauty and grace. The polished blue of a winter sky. The unspoiled look of sidewalks and lawns white-washed with snow. The trees’ bare, upraised branches, pleading for spring.

Soon enough the grass will shed its brown coat and give birth to green shoots. We will see hardly weeds creep up in sidewalk cracks. We too wait. We too persevere.

What are your favorite parts of winter? What survival strategies do you practice to make it through January and on to February? Can we, as Thomas Merton suggests, learn to “love winter?”

A yellow wildflower grows up between a crack in a sidewalk.
We look forard to seeing the first hardy grasses, wildflowers and even weeds that pop up in late winter. (Photo by Pat Leyko Connelly)

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Judith Valente

Author of 4 spirituality books & 2 poetry collections. Award-winning reporter for Wall Street Journal, PBS-TV, Washington Post & 2 IL public radio stations.