Giftmas 2023: Winter Light

It’s become an annual December tradition here to participate in Rhonda Parrish’s Giftmas fundraiser for Edmonton’s Food Bank. Having been both a beneficiary of and a volunteer for food-related nonprofits, food insecurity is something I care deeply about. Also, I like to eat. Doesn’t everyone?

NB: As part of Giftmas 2023, Rhonda has co-written with Ed Greenwood a fabulous piece of fanwork featuring her character Xen and Volothamp Geddarm, who has recently become beloved to me through Baldur’s Gate 3. You’ll find the link to her story (on Patreon but not paywalled) at her website.

This year’s theme is “Winter Light,” and I’ve been noodling over that ever since I found out. I’ve written a lot of notes, but I’m still not entirely sure how this post will come out. Bear with me!

A landscape of a winter field covered in snow, with trees to the left side. The sun is low in the sky sending gorgeous winter light across the scene. The title Giftmas 2023 is on the graphic.This year we’re aiming for $1,000 CAD, which will create about 3,000 meals, due to the food bank’s buying power. As I write this, we’re standing at $818 and have 4 more days to go. I think we stand a good chance of not only meeting but surpassing our goal, but we need your help!

The direct link for our fundraiser is

Winter Light

There’s something different about the quality of winter light, isn’t there? Those low angles of light in the evening, often with clouds diffusing it, make me see things differently. I’m driving to work in the dark before dawn, and that sharp clarity of the sky just before I leave home, with Venus and the moon providing light in the pre-dawn sky, always makes me take a deep breath.

With the scarcity of light in winter, I find it to be all the more precious. I rely on a lot of different types of lights all winter.

One I didn’t immediately expect to be writing about in this post is my SAD light, but it plays a big part in my getting through winter. I ought to use it every morning. I have this lovely ideal morning routine in my head, where I get up and sit in my rocking chair with the SAD light on and my notebook to write morning pages.

Yeah, that doesn’t happen every day.

But the more consistently I use the light and write the pages, the better my mental health is. If I hadn’t been a night owl most of my life, it would probably be easier LOL.

Morning Light

One of the other essential lights I rely on is my sunrise simulation alarm clock. That has been an essential tool as I try to turn myself into an early riser. I have to leave for work at 7:30 am, and I’ve spent the last nine months easing my bedtime from 11 pm to (at the moment) 9:30 pm. I’m trying to get it back to 9 pm, but that may be wishful thinking. (Though it’s always easier right after we go back to Standard Time, because 7 pm feels like midnight.)

I also try to turn on as many lights as possible while I’m getting ready for work, because I read Dr. Chris Winter’s book The Sleep Solution prior to seeing him give a talk at the small liberal arts college where I work. He talks about how important it is to have deep dark when you sleep, and how bright light in the morning is important to help you wake up.

You can probably see a theme developing where I’m paying a lot of attention to sleep hygiene and mental health lately!

Evening Light

I live in Indiana, where we get about 9 hours of sunlight in the winter. I know that’s a lot more light than Edmonton gets in the winter! I admire the hardy souls who live much further north of me. I’ve also been trying to learn from them how to better cope with winter.

I read The Little Book of Hygge in January 2022, and embracing the concept of coziness has made a huge difference to me. I wrote last year for Giftmas about how much I was relying on candlelight. Another thing I use to create hygge is my string of twinkle lights. I started using them right after reading the hygge book, and blogged then about how they were saving my life last winter.

A string of white twinkle lights shot with a shallow depth of field so only the closest are in focus.

One of my favorite things is to sit in my rocking chair in the evening with an actual paper book (I love e-books but I’m trying to avoid devices after 8 pm), a hot drink (usually one of my Apothekary sleeping potions), and my twinkle lights. I have a reading light too, of course, but the twinkle lights in my peripheral vision make things so cozy. It’s even better if one of my cats joins me.

Why Light Matters

I tend to equate light with hope. And if you’ve been around here for a while, you might remember that I feel pretty strongly about writing hopeful fantasy. I amĀ not a fan of grimdark in any way. This last year I discovered that at least part of the reason for that is how high I rank in Positivity when it comes to CliftonStrengths.

I’ve been taking antidepressants since 2003, so don’t think I’m here to advocate for the healing power of positive thinking. I know it takes more than hope and light. It takes important stuff like medical intervention, therapy, and having a support network. It also takes having things like a roof over your head, warm clothes, and enough food to eat.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have access to all of those things over the years. But how many people haven’t?

I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to think or sleep if I’m hungry. There are lots of studies about how kids can’t concentrate to do well in school if they’re not eating enough. If we can’t think or sleep when we’re hungry, how much harder must it be to hope?

And that’s why shining a light for others matters to me. And in the darkest days of winter, when light is in such short supply, doesn’t that make it that much more precious?

Donate to Edmonton’s Food Bank

This QR code will take you directly to the donation page, or you can visit Either way, your donation makes a difference. Every $1 CAD can purchase 3 meals, and with the current exchange rate, USD stretches even further.

QR code linking to donation sitePlease help us bring a little winter light into some homes in Edmonton.

Singing in the Dark – Carrie Newcomer

This song has been running through my head for the past couple of months, ever since I saw singer-songwriter (and fellow Hoosier) Carrie Newcomer in concert at the release party for her new album. This song is from that album, A Great Wild Mercy, and was inspired by her visit to the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky (where Thomas Merton spent 27 years of his vocation).

They pray the hours at the abbey, and this song is about the 3:15 am Vigils they keep. It’s about singing in the dark, but also “calling up the day” and keeping vigil for others. I think it’s beautiful even if you’re not religious. Give it a listen.

Note: None of the product links are affiliate links. They’re just things I like.


  1. Thank you so much for not only being a part of this fundraiser every year, but sharing parts of yourself. I feel honoured by these peeks through the window of your life :)

    • I love this fundraiser so much. I always end up thinking a lot about the themes you come up with, and often I learn things about myself as I write for it! Thank you for organizing it!

  2. Great post, and what a lovely song!

  3. Beautiful posts. I love your reflections on different kinds of light. Thank you for sharing.

  4. I love your description of the predawn light in winter, just lovely. Thank you for that! Light is so important. For many years I’ve followed a ritual of turning off lights one-by-one in the half-hour before bed, as a way of easing the brain toward sleep. SAD is real, y’all, and when I wake up in the morning during the dark months, I turn on many lights to wake my brain up and boost my mood. It helps.

    I met Carrie Newcomer circa 2005 when she gave a writing workshop at St. Peter’s UCC in Carmel called The Sacred Ordinary. It was all about mining the little ordinary moments in our lives for their sacredness, and using that to fuel our creativity. It was wonderful, and so much of it has stuck with me all these years.

  5. Pingback: Giftmas 2023 Wrap-Up | Rhonda Parrish

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