Illustration by Grégoire Gicquel
Illustration: Grégoire Gicquel

I’ve always loved winter in Chicago. My birthday is a few days before Christmas, and the twists and turns in the story of the frigid day I was born are well rehearsed and well performed in my house. My favorite seasonal beers are porters. I look phenomenal in turtlenecks. And I grew up thinking that loving the snow and the wind and boots was normal.

It wasn’t until I went away to college on the East Coast that I found most people don’t enjoy the seasonal equivalent of a term paper.

Why was winter on the East Coast even bleaker than here? Because winter in Chicago is full of light. As the sun starts setting at 4:24 p.m., this city is like the last surviving girl in a horror movie frantically waving a flashlight against whatever terrors are looming in the dark. Fire pits and patio heaters keep beer gardens open well into football season. Twinkle bulbs on the trees make the sidewalks in the Loop seem magical. The warning lights on a fleet of snowplows charging down Lake Shore Drive behind you make the commute home feel like a chase scene out of Fast & Furious. Anything to keep the blood pumping, right?

And when Chicago’s light shines on the forgotten corners of the city, there’s pleasure to be found all over. The heat lamps on the CTA cast a warm, intermittent glow that lasts just long enough to notice a cutie standing right there reading an actual book. It would be a moment out of a romantic comedy where everyone has perfectly tied scarves and someone makes a move, if not for the crowd of pigeons trying to soak up that naturally occurring Instagram filter.

That incandescent yellow light that fills every booth in the Christkindlmarket, illuminating artisanal soaps and those scary Krampus masks, spills out into Daley Plaza. The shine catches on greasy lips curling up into satisfied smiles. Eating a pork schnitzel sandwich with mittens on is not a Dadaist expression of Chicago’s meat culture. It’s a wholesome family activity. Light is nature’s best disinfectant.

The winter sunset creates long shadows of the lawn chairs set out to establish dibs — dark silhouettes on white snow starkly defining hard-earned parking spots. It makes the whole thing feel like a metaphor. Like the city is working on the second draft of its novel, one that is a little too on the nose, but it moves.

Winter in Chicago can feel aimless and at times endless. Imagining that we aren’t just marching further into the darkness but that we’re circling and swirling around these radiant points of light can make the whole thing feel brighter.