As a high school student, I had a fairly constant refrain:
“We need a snow day. Give us a snow day. Please.”
Now, this was not me praying or placing a sock under my pillow or attempting to bewitch the skies to make storms appear, this was me on days when school should have been cancelled due to inclement weather even though it had not been.
I grew up in Binghamton, NY where most of our snow came from major storms across the interior or from large Nor’easters. So when we had a big storm - even though we knew how to move snow well (it’s upstate NY after all) - we had a snow day.
In high school I moved to Rochester, NY, which sees more snow each year than Binghamton does, mostly due to constant lake effect snow. Because of this, Rochester (for some reason) prides itself on moving snow so well that there’s no reason to ever have a snow day.
Let’s even put aside the obvious fact that big snow storms or large amounts of black ice are dangerous and potentially life-threatening, especially when you have students driving themselves and their friends to school. There’s another big reason that Snow Days are crucial: Mental Health.
As someone who grew up being guaranteed 2-3 Snow Days each year, I can tell you that there is no bigger boost to morale in the bleak mid-winter than a surprise day off. And not just for the students, for the teachers as well.
As soon as I was living in a place that refused to have a snow day, the effect was clear and obvious. When the weather was terrible and the snow was pretty and the winds were whipping, what I saw was:
1) Sadness at being in a place of obligation, 2) Frustration at being teased with the potential of a day off, 3) Anger at the seeming lack of value placed on student and teacher lives, 4) Distraction at the weather itself in the large windows of the classrooms, 5) Anxiety over the amount of work that still needs to be done, 6) Longing for the day off that others most certainly had, 7) Annoyance at those who chose to stay at home, and more…
These are pretty damaging effects to inflict upon an entire population of people. And why? To proudly say you never close due to snow? Sounds more like recklessness to me. Not to mention that the flexibility for up to 4 snow days is built into the school calendar.
So, what about the positive effects of having a surprise day off?
So much joy, for so many reasons. Anxiety lifts. The weight of obligation takes a day off with you. You can feel free to be distracted. You aren’t constrained by schedule. And there was a follow through on a promise of something positive. People tend to return the next day refreshed and ready for more. Morale boosted.
Whether or not it is true, the Fall always feels like it has more break time built into the calendar, especially in comparison to the Winter. To be fair, Fall does have:
Labor Day to start, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur if your school observes, Indigenous People’s (or Columbus) Day, Veteran’s Day, Parent-Teacher Conference Day(s), Thanksgiving, and a Holiday Break surrounding multiple holidays and lasting between 8-12 days. And because the calendar year changes during that long break, it feels as though the semester has ended, even though it doesn’t truly end until the end of January.
Winter feels like it has far fewer breaks. Some places have two week-long breaks (one in February and one in March/April), and other places have only one week-long break (usually in mid-March). Otherwise, there’s a small smattering of random days off.
Why is this important?
1) We all need some time to refresh. Time to be away from one another. Time to do something we enjoy and want to do. Time that isn’t structured by obligation. Time to sleep. Time with those we love.
2) Winter is dark. Darkness begets sadness. Seasonal Affective Disorder is not only real, it’s far more prevalent than most people realize. Having a break where you can spend the daylight hours in the presence of the sun is a huge boost for the mind and body.
3) Work and stress. We start off this time of year coming down from the high of the Holiday Season. Happiness and lights and decorations and candles etc. that have been adorning our homes and places of work and business…all suddenly disappear. Anxiety sets in. Then, of course, we send students into immediate mid-term testing. And then start a new semester. Sadness and let down add onto stress and extra work, and everything feels overwhelming.
When breaks are scarce, what can help? Yep, Snow Days.
Our competitive culture in this country is grueling. We ask far too much of the general population on a regular basis.
Now, when I speak of competition I don’t necessarily mean against other people. Sometimes it’s competition with ourselves. Or for something instead of against someone. For grades. For accomplishment. For recognition. For honors. For college. For pride. For our parents. For our teachers. For anyone who expects more of us.
And it’s often too much.
This is part of a much larger complex due to our over-bearing vulturistic capitalist society, which is something I won’t be going into here. And a snow day will not fix this system. But a day off can help ground us and remind us of who we are, what we are, why we do what we do, and that there’s so much more to life than the expectations of others. This is necessary.
“Why are we talking about Snow Days…?”
Well, friends, I had one this past Tuesday.
Those who have been reading my blog regularly will know that I have not yet had a day off in 2019, and am not scheduled to have one (of my very few this winter) until this coming weekend. So this was a surprise day off. And let me tell you, it was glorious.
It reminded me of the importance of these days to our physical and mental health, not only as students in a high school or a college, but as human beings living in this world. Sometimes we just need a day off.
One more high school anecdote:
One of my best friends in high school would occasionally not show up to school, generally with no warning. But everyone in our friend group knew what this meant: She called these “Mental Health Days.” At the time I did not understand what this meant and why this was important - and I am very lucky that was the case for me - and so we all made fun of these self-proclaimed days off. But she had it right.
We cannot work ourselves to death with obligation. We need to take care of ourselves. And when we don’t, we need surprise days off to remind us of why we need more self-care.
With my Snow Day this week I actually did 6.5 hours of work, which doesn’t sound relaxing, but it was wonderful. I took care of things I wanted to and needed to, which ultimately helped my personal mental health. I lifted the stress of other obligations and it was totally worth it. And then I rewarded myself with 5 episodes of Game of Thrones…
I mean, it was a Snow Day after all!
So, here’s to all of those with a sock under their pillow and those attempting to call forth the great snows of the northern winds: I see you and hear you, and wish you many a Snow Day in your future!