Allow me to set the scene for you. It is the coldest month of the year and also the darkest. The sun sets not long after lunch, ruling out any after-work revelry more exciting than testing your antifreeze. It’s too chilly to go for a walk; even a trip to the gym looms like an exhausting Iditarod. Despite blasting the heat at all hours, you still can’t get your house warm. Your girlfriend hasn’t been seen in the four days since she took refuge under that blanket with the Friends logo on it.
The Christmas season has ended, stripping the winter of its festivity: no more twinkling lights or Andy Williams. You took down your tree weeks ago, lest you become one of those freaks who still has holiday decorations up in February, but without it your house just feels bare. Your driveway is a death trap of black ice; your trees are leafless daggers. Friends keep messaging you like they might want to go out, might be on the cusp of doing something fun, only to suddenly go dark, surrendering to the inertia of the season.
Imagine all this… and now let’s say you have two options. The first is you can give up drinking. The second is you can gulp down every porter and stout within a five-mile radius in order to brighten up the mood.
Which are you going to choose?
That this is even a question shows the folly of Dry January, America’s worst calendar observance. For one month, we’re supposed to abstain from alcohol as some kind of offering to the gods of self-help. The theory goes that we get in all our boozing and binging ’round about the time Christ was born, only to realize abruptly what a flopping tub of degeneracy we’ve become. Determined to atone (and perhaps work off that hangover), we triumphantly throw the bottles in the trash and goose-step soberly into the new year.
This just feels like oversaturation. The neo-Puritans in our culture have already set the drinking age absurdly high, replaced real meat with Impossible Burgers and banished smokers to holding pens in dark alleys surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers. You can’t carry a Heineken outside a bar without getting accosted by a cop and you can’t puff on a Marlboro in Georgetown without half of civilization coughing melodramatically. Fearmongering TV spots show teenagers taking a single sip of beer and then driving directly into a telephone pole. This kind of hectoring is everywhere; does it really need its own month?
The biggest problem with Dry January isn’t the abstinence per se. If someone wants to give up alcohol for a night or even as much as two nights, then sláinte to him, I say. The biggest problem is the timing, encouraging sobriety amid our post-yuletide wasteland. Why not Dry April, when the trees are in bloom and you actually want to go outside? Or Dry September, when the kids go back to school and your mental health gets a much-needed boost?
This problem of timing isn’t limited to Dry January. America’s original sin is racism; for too long we’ve ignored black history… so we gave them February? (This is why celebrating Juneteenth isn’t just a good idea, it’s seasonal justice.) Also, why do we observe Thanksgiving in late November, encroaching on Christmas’s domain and forcing families to coexist twice within a month? The Canadians eat their turkey in early October, a traditional harvest festival, which, like government-mandated flannel, seems like one of those things they get right.
The best principle in life isn’t “everything in moderation” — who can resist Oscar Wilde’s tack-on, “including moderation”? — but “to everything there is a season.” And the season for porters, stouts, red ales, Bailey’s, eggnog and brandy is the bleak midwinter. It isn’t just about easing the pain. Everyone feels more social against the atomizing coldness once they’ve had a stiff glass. And what game of Cards Against Humanity or Ticket to Ride isn’t vastly improved when you take sips in between turns? We’re so used to hearing about alcohol’s destructive effects that we forget why it became so popular in the first place: because it brings people together. And January is when we need to be brought together most.
Preferably at a pub, if we can muster up the willpower to venture outside. That’s the final knock against Dry January: the cold months are when our bars are at their best. There is nothing cozier than stepping out of the frost into a pub, preferably with plenty of stained glass and a roaring fire. And there is no fellowship in this world like that between winter drinkers, those huddled, ruddy-nosed masses united not just for camaraderie but body heat. You see this best whenever someone opens the door to the bar. Every head turns in wary synchronization as the cold air blasts in.
Why would we want to rob ourselves of all this in the name of Dry January? ’Tis the season for a drink.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s January 2023 World edition.