Winter in Chicago is a gift for a writer. It is a force of nature capable of changing not just the face and pace of a city, but the vision of it. A magical snowfall opening a story signals a different city than an ice storm would. Winter in fiction, and in life, exists in both the real dimension of weather reports, as well as in a figurative dimension where weather can be a projection that conveys the world within the characters. 

In the stretch of holidays early in the season, Chicago weather can take on an almost literary feel, like weather does in the theaters playing Dickens’s A Christmas Carol or James Joyce’s modernist masterpiece, “The Dead.” And there’s a theatrical side to winter on the Chicago streets. They serve as settings, interactive backgrounds to the individual, private life stories we can choose to share with others or keep to ourselves. The city for all its conflicts seems to collaborate on a sprawling holiday set that’s kicked into gear earlier each year. It’s especially accomplished on lighting effects, blocks strung with colored bulbs and fairy lights, as if the magic of the season is essentially nocturnal, like a dream. A snowfall oscillating in the headlights and streetlights becomes part of the show. In the corner taverns of my old hood in Pilsen, those lights behind the bar sometimes continued to glow well into June. 

If shopping hasn’t been confined to Amazon, then maybe you’re in the Loop, walking with a loved one on the night of a private celebration you’ve dubbed the Feast of Chocolate because of the sharpened air scents emanating from the Blommer Chocolate Company. Or maybe you’re on Jewelers Row, walking up Wabash beneath the tracks, with the L rattling overhead contributing sparks to the light show, and suddenly the present is overlapped by all the other times you walked this route searching for a last-minute gift. 

Or perhaps you’re out alone in the winter dark at the tail end of a snowfall in your own neighborhood, shoveling a dibs parking space, and you can hear your shovel and other shovels from up and down the block, all scraping to the clarity of bells in the cold from one or another local cathedral, chiming a carol that carries over the roofs.