Season’s Greetings / Happy Solstice

Fortune favors the prepared mind. –Louis Pasteur

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

I was going to take some pictures at a Winter Solstice bonfire last night and post them here — because there is a finance angle, I promise — but the organizers cancelled it because of the ice storm. So, herewith a picture of an alternative source of light and heat: My wood stove:


Nice to know I’ll still have heat if the power lines go down, from the weight of accreted ice, I hasten to add, not the collapse of Western civilization up here at the end of the supply chain.

Catching myself: “Down,” “weight,” “collapse,” “end” — it’s almost like I’m letting the cold and the dark get to me; only natural, since after all the Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year. But look on the bright side: The days are only going to get longer from here on out, all the way out past the day planting season begins, so far into the future we might as well not even worry about the days getting shorter again, ever.

My favorite Christmas Carol is It Came Upon a Midnight Clear for the following lines:

From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold


I love the image of the sky tearing open, and great shining beings leaning down through the rent; it’s more about the light than the music, with me. I’d include a YouTube, but the rendition I have in mind is my mother’s, as we would sing round the Steinway on Christmas Eve, and Bing Crosby (and Sinatra (and Ella Fitzgerald)) just don’t compare; they don’t soar, as angels should do. Gone the Steinway, gone my mother, gone the family, of course; ice and sleet ticking at my lit window….

Still, Naked Capitalism being a finance blog, we should remember the effects that the loss and regaining of light can have on us. From the Atlanta Fed [PDF]:

Winter Blues: A SAD Stock Market Cycle

Abstract: This paper investigates the role of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in the seasonal time-variation of stockmarket returns. SAD is an extensively documented medical condition whereby the shortness of the days in fall and winter leads to depression for many people. Experimental research in psychology and economics indicates that depression, in turn, causes heightened risk aversion. Building on these links between the length of day, depression,and risk aversion, we provide international evidence that stock market returns vary seasonally with the length of the day, a result we call the SAD effect. Using data from numerous stock exchanges and controlling for well-known market seasonals as well as other environmental factors, stock returns are shown to be significantly related to the amount of daylight through the fall and winter. Patterns at different latitudes and in both hemispheres provide compelling evidence of a link between seasonal depression and seasonal variation in stock returns: Higher latitude markets show more pronounced SAD effects and results in the Southern Hemisphere are six months out of phase,as are the seasons. Overall, the economic magnitude of the SAD effect is large.


* * *

Remarkable that the Atlanta Fed wrote that; I thought only New Englanders like me got SAD. Let me close with a story about that may be useful to some of you. Back when I lived in Boston, I was taking the Red Line home over the Charles around 5:00 PM, in the dark, feeling tired, and cranky, and not exactly like there was an elephant’s foot on my heart, but burdened, and wondering why, why, and idly perusing a random article — no eye contact! — in Scientific American that’s so old I can’t find it online and which had a checklist for SAD symptoms, one of which was a craving for starch. And the light bulb went on: I’d just eaten a whole bag of Pepperidge Farm cookies. And I was suffering from all the other items on the checklist too! The kicker? I already knew I was prone to SAD, had known it for years. But it took a chance reading on the train to connect my own knowledge to my own experience. SAD, and its evil, monstrous cousin, depression, are indeed insidious and subtle adversaries. So take care of yourself, get plenty of light, and remember that the days are getting longer!

Oh yeah, I forgot about the whole birthday thing. But I think the pagans got this one right. Also too, full spectrum lamps, and so what about the placebo effect?

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. ambrit

    Happy Solstice Lambert.
    The “Birthday Thing” is real big here Down South. So what if the early Church Fathers stole the pagan midwinter holiday and incorporated it into their up and coming religion. The animating idea is the same; Rebirth.
    The SAD phenomenon teaches the lesson that we are creatures of our environments, not ever victorious conquerors. What a wonderful world we’d have if the “Titans of Finance” ever partook of a little humility.

    1. Cynthia

      I’m fine with trimming trees, Santa Claus, elves who want to be dentists, candy canes, overindulging, even the Nutcracker and the occasional choir. Just stop jamming that Christ stuff into my government and down my throat!

  2. AbyNormal

    nave of the world, you cast me thus
    born in bleak hours of winter’s dusk
    on sheets of ice, cold as clay
    alabaster skin blue veined

    flee pale sun beyond amazon, flee
    linger there three days, i beckon thee
    return to bring thy blessed light
    heal our dark worldish pain

    sacred oak neath ice, lowly bend
    sacred herbs mistletoe and holly lend
    your everlasting green to hope
    will ever life to earth return?

    fortuitous those in autumn bred
    to slumber in summer’s heather bed
    but to me in darkest hour your year begins
    mid winter pin you all your dreams

    yet I, ice born mid dimmest light
    enamored, swathed, in deepest night
    rejoice ye all as seasons turn
    not me, but spring and summer yearn

    come all ye, behold the child today
    mask dread, feign cheer in holiday
    marked forever in hostile northern climes
    o sun return, you whisper, my lullaby

    My Gratitude & Best Wishes to All at NC!

    (The main reason Santa is so jolly is because he knows where all the bad girls live. Carlin)

  3. kristiina

    Yes, happy solstice, and lest we get all too birthday-happy – there is Krampus, too. The just deserts…

    Depression I consider a precious ally, not an adversary (although, from some perspective it would look they’re the same…). I mean, what else is there to remind us that really, we will be judged not by how we look and what we have? Depression is the process that keeps the house clean and sparkly – if I let it. Somewhere in our bones, there’s that knowing part, that will not let us rest in the delusional safe havens our culture has built. I bless that part, it has chased me out of deadly traps. Like Krampus, a fierce, ruthless lover that refuses to let my soul die.

    And a bit of real work; building an electropsychogenic bridge.

  4. DakotabornKansan

    Mixed and disturbing seasons – barren winters and hoped-for springs – was wonderfully captured by T.S. Eliot in his poem “Little Gidding,” which opens in midwinter, at the winter solstice, as the sun is setting over the water near the chapel of Little Gidding, a seventeenth-century Anglican monastery in south England. Everything is dead yet blazing with the sun’s fire:

    “Midwinter spring is its own season
    Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,
    Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.
    When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,
    The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,
    In windless cold that is the heart’s heat,
    Reflecting in a watery mirror
    A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon.
    And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier,
    Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but pentecostal fire
    In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
    The soul’s sap quivers. There is no earth smell
    Or smell of living thing. This is the spring time
    But not in time’s covenant. Now the hedgerow
    Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom
    Of snow, a bloom more sudden
    Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading,
    Not in the scheme of generation.
    Where is the summer, the unimaginable Zero summer?”
    – T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding,” Four Quartets

  5. JEHR

    I walk in the mornings when the weather allows and on sunny days I have been stopping and, with my sunglasses on and my eyes closed, have turned directly towards the low, cooler sun of winter to let the light from the sun imprint itself behind my eyeballs and I feel as though I am bathing in the sunlight!

  6. Chauncey Gardiner

    My Best Wishes to you in the New Year, Lambert. This is a difficult time of year, but it does end in glorious spring.

    Read that getting outside during these short daylight hours for even ten minutes can help alleviate SAD.

  7. Jill

    “kumiageru mizu ni haru tatsu hikari kana

    In these dark waters
    Drawn up from my frozen well…
    Glittering of spring” (Ringai)

  8. HotFlash

    Spent lots of time outside today in Toronto, after the ice storm. I scraped my walk, a neighbours’ walk, then another neighbour’s, then another neighbour’s car (for tomorrow), then anothers. I went a couple of blocks away, a friend with fibromyalgia, not too good at ice-scraping, but a fine knitter and fabric artist. I scraped and shovelled her walk, then asked her about salt or sand, she said no, she uses birdseed. Ho! Birdseeded her walk then went inside for sherry and ginger cookies, and a Yule bag of goodies — a pine Christmas tree! a black and red knitted/crafted silk scarf! — excellent, I am having Christmas dinner with some anarchist friends, to one of whom I will probably re-gift this. Some sherry-laden Scottish-style ‘Chrissie cake’! This went to a neighbour family, Polish, with whom I scraped still another neighbour’s driveway. A turned wooden Christmas ornament! which is probably as old as my house, that is 150 years, give or take a few.

    I am content, and look forward to longer days and many more Nekkid C’s. Thank you Yves. Hint to me and to all, $52 is a dollar a week, and excellent value.

    My dear Lambert, je suis desolee, I can’t come see you this time, but you just wait, one of these days I will show up at your door ready to turn the compost pile or mulch the fandango trees. But be warned, I want to see those kibble bushes in person.

    Merry anything at all, to everyone everywhere.

  9. Dan Kervick

    My favorite Christmas carol was always “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”:

    Peace on Earth, and mercy mild,
    God and sinners reconciled.

    But I’m also very fond of “Good King Wenceslas”:

    Good King Wenceslas looked out
    On the feast of Stephen
    When the snow lay round about
    Deep and crisp and even
    Brightly shone the moon that night
    Though the frost was cruel
    When a poor man came in sight
    Gath’ring winter fuel

    “Hither, page, and stand by me
    If thou know’st it, telling
    Yonder peasant, who is he?
    Where and what his dwelling?”
    “Sire, he lives a good league hence
    Underneath the mountain
    Right against the forest fence
    By Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

    “Bring me flesh and bring me wine
    Bring me pine logs hither
    Thou and I will see him dine
    When we bear him thither.”
    Page and monarch forth they went
    Forth they went together
    Through the rude wind’s wild lament
    And the bitter weather

    “Sire, the night is darker now
    And the wind blows stronger
    Fails my heart, I know not how,
    I can go no longer.”
    “Mark my footsteps, my good page
    Tread thou in them boldly
    Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
    Freeze thy blood less coldly.”

    In his master’s steps he trod
    Where the snow lay dinted
    Heat was in the very sod
    Which the Saint had printed
    Therefore, Christian men, be sure
    Wealth or rank possessing
    Ye who now will bless the poor
    Shall yourselves find blessing.

  10. run75441

    When we would sing in The Methodist Temple in downtown Chicago and I was a young lad of 12 singing tenor, we would sing many songs of Christmas. One I liked was “The Holly and the Ivy.” It is hard to pick one fav. but this one has meaning beyond just words.

    The holly and the ivy,
    When they are both full grown
    Of all the trees that are in the wood
    The holly bears the crown
    O the rising of the sun
    And the running of the deer
    The playing of the merry organ
    Sweet singing of the choir

    The holly bears a blossom
    As white as lily flower
    And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
    To be our sweet Saviour
    O the rising of the sun
    And the running of the deer
    The playing of the merry organ
    Sweet singing of the choir

    The holly bears a berry
    As red as any blood
    And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
    To do poor sinners good
    O the rising of the sun
    And the running of the deer
    The playing of the merry organ
    Sweet singing of the choir

    The holly bears a prickle
    As sharp as any thorn;
    And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
    On Christmas Day in the morn.
    O the rising of the sun
    And the running of the deer
    The playing of the merry organ
    Sweet singing of the choir

    The holly bears a bark
    As bitter as any gall;
    And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
    For to redeem us all.
    O the rising of the sun
    And the running of the deer
    The playing of the merry organ
    Sweet singing of the choir

    The holly and the ivy
    Now both are full well grown,
    Of all the trees that are in the wood,
    The holly bears the crown.
    O the rising of the sun
    And the running of the deer
    The playing of the merry organ
    Sweet singing of the choir

    Best of Holidays and be safe in this world of unsafe realities.


  11. MRW

    Lambert; re: SAD

    Buy Chromalux light bulbs. I wouldn’t accept any other brand if I were you; many have tried to copy them, but you need rare earths. They are made for SAD in Finland (now manufactured in China I think, which makes them cheaper). Oh yeah, they last 5,000 hours each. I’ve got some that are still working after 20 years. Great on a dimmer, so put the max wattage in each socket. Fluorescent Chromalux available, they’re as good as grow lights; mine have lasted 20 years as well with daily use.

  12. just me

    Ah! Ah! Beautiful is the mother
    Ah! Ah! Beautiful is the child


    till he appeared
    and the soul felt its worth

  13. Dana

    Like many, I suffer severe SAD. I think it’s important that we remember, though, that there was a time, in the pre-industrial era, when there was very little work to be done, in wintertime. People got drunk, invented, communicated, fornicated, and, basically relaxed.

    But oh, how times have changed! ‘Work’ [ie, filling the pockets of oligarchic rentiers, in order to ‘make a living’] is required all year long, allowing a mere day or two of respite to con$$um€ and to celebrate the emergence of one or more mythical creatures.

    I’m with all of my fellow SAD’ers in heart and mind … but it’s important to remember what the remedy has always been and why it’s no longer available.

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