The Wintering We All Need Right Now
Editor’s Note: As the temperature dips and the snow begins to fall, we’re sharing this post, originally published in December 2020, all about the power of wintering. We hope it brings you a fresh, rejuvenating perspective on the winter season ahead.
It was the winter of 1991. My aquamarine bib snow pants were strapped onto my shoulders and bunched over my boots, my coat barely zipped up over my sweater. I was Ralphie’s brother from A Christmas Story. The snow was piled up higher than my head, and in the backyard, I kept getting stuck as I tried to cross the boreal terrain. My nose was cold and I was too warm under my layered winter gear, but it was a delight to partake in this, Minnesota’s famous Halloween Blizzard. Everybody has a story about it.
Ask any ’80s kid and they’ll talk about it like it was the most magnificent event in which they’ve ever partaken. Ask someone from earlier generations and they’ll reminisce about having had to shovel their way out of their homes and unbury their cars, like three feet of snow is only a nuisance, not an enchanting occurrence.
I yearn for that kind of childlike merrymaking, where the deeper the snow the bigger the celebration, and the lower the temperatures the taller the tales. But like Santa Clause and Rudolph, these delights melted away along with my youth. Now, when I see snow falling I think about the condition of the roads. When the temperatures are below zero, my mind goes straight to my drafty windows and how I’ll be able to keep my children from frostbite.
Not this year.
This year I am embracing the Scandinavian heritage my home state was founded on. When I see snow, I’m going to marvel at how it sets the streets aglitter. And when the temperatures plummet, I’m going to think about bundling up under a blanket by the fire. I’m not going to simply endure winter like I do year after year; I’m going to use it as an excuse to rest, reflect, and rejuvenate. This winter I am going to heal.
I’m not going to simply endure winter like I do year after year; I’m going to use it as an excuse to rest, reflect, and rejuvenate. This winter I am going to heal.
You may have heard of the Danish word hygge. It’s not a word so much as a concept or way of being. Not quite translatable into English, it is essentially a coziness that evokes a feeling of contentment or well-being. Hygge is a big leather chair, a weighted blanket, and a good book. It’s drinking hot cocoa by a crackling fire and cuddling with a pet or loved one. A way of living as second nature as bicycling in Denmark, hygge has only recently hit the U.S.—and to much fanfare.
Hygge is a delicious idea. It’s enough to get me through until spring. But I recently came across another concept that has a slightly stronger pull for me: wintering.
British author Katherine May released a book last year called Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, and it is a glorious read. Wintering, according to May, is not just a time of year. Everyone has their own personal winters, or seasons of difficulty in which we must nurture ourselves and our souls to come out better than we were upon entering them. Sometimes winters are in the summer. Other times, like this year, they begin in March and last for an unforeseeable number of months. Winters like those May speaks of are a time to welcome our hardships (they’re coming for us regardless, but embracing the cold makes them hurt a little bit less) and give ourselves the time and space we need to get to the other side.
“Wintering brings about some of the most profound and insightful moments of our human experience, and wisdom resides in those who have wintered,” May says. A metaphor and a way to embrace the season, wintering is everything we need to do right now. We as a collective whole need to hunker down and heal. There is global hunger for it.
Winters like those May speaks of are a time to welcome our hardships (they’re coming for us regardless, but embracing the cold makes them hurt a little bit less) and give ourselves the time and space we need to get to the other side.
Many of us are still trying to be as productive as possible (I am so guilty of this). But maybe instead of being productive we should focus on doing what we need to survive.
I slept until 8:45 this morning—later than I’ve slept in recent memory. I have two children; one is only three months old. When I was up at 5:00 with the younger one, my initial reaction was to get up and grab my computer. To get some writing done. To produce. But after a feeding session, I handed over the baby, crawled back into bed, and woke up hours later. I wintered, and I feel incredible for it.
In Wintering, May talks about the magical transformation trees in northern climates undergo: “The changes that take place in winter are a kind of alchemy, an enchantment performed by ordinary creatures to survive.”
Is it magic? No. It’s nature, and it’s in you and it’s in me.
It’s time to retreat, to follow our urges to go to bed a little earlier and wake up a little later.
It’s time to indulge, not extensively, not unhealthily, but in a way that warms the heart and fuels the soul.
Winter is a time to read the books and take the naps we haven’t made time for because we’ve been attending to everything that needs doing. Because winter isn’t about doing, it’s about being—whatever being is to you. And for me, being is reading a book in the quiet of the morning with a coffee in hand and the whole day ahead of me.
Yes, get outside and snowshoe or ski if the snow attracts you. But if the cold makes you recoil a little bit, embrace your desires and give in to the urge to be cozy and relax. Some proper wintering with a little hygge woven into it makes me excited about this winter, and the mere thought of spring makes me nostalgic for crackling fires and wool sweaters. Before the snow melts and the trees blossom, I am going to drink that coffee with heavy whipping cream, make those hearty stews, and find my healing. I am going to retreat. And come springtime, when it’s warm enough to feel the sun on my skin, I’ll be open enough to receive all of the renewal the season has ready for me.
Winter is a time to read the books and take the naps we haven’t made time for because we’ve been attending to everything that needs doing. Because winter isn’t about doing, it’s about being—whatever being is to you.
I received a holiday card this year. “Kindness is like snow,” it reads. “It beautifies everything it covers.” This quote by Kahlil Gibran—accompanied by a man in a crown holding a robin while a goose and a fox have tea in the foreground—is the kind of specific beauty you can only find this time of year. I intend to bask in it and let the cold, the snow, and the darkness magnify the beauty all around me.
Let’s winter together.
Kolina Cicero is enamored with stories – reading them, writing them, getting lost within them. Other things she loves include yoga, traveling, and taking cooking, Italian, and writing classes. Her first children’s book, Rosie and the Hobby Farm, was published in July 2020.