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How I Learned to Love Winter

 

6.10.2011

Rachel Rodham

It has become clear to me that a lot of pagans don’t like winter and dread its onset.  To me this does not sit easily with a spiritual path that claims to ‘revere’ nature and honour the seasons and the turning of the wheel.  It saddens me that we can spend such a chunk of our year being unhappy or anticipating being unhappy.  Yet when questioned most people say that they prefer seasonal change to one monotone season – accepting winter is therefore an important process. 

I also realise that I was once quite averse to winter myself but have now largely changed my opinion - or at least my appreciation - of the season.   This article and a talk followed.

Why I decided to love winter.

I realised that I like living in a seasonal climate.  I then realised that I could not enjoy my favourite times of year - spring and autumn – without winter in between.  I didn’t want to spend a large part of the year resenting what I couldn’t change so what had to change was my outlook. 

I learned not to extend winter:

I don’t spend all springtime worrying about the forthcoming summer so why spend the autumn worrying about the winter?  I now try to enjoy each season for its own merits – I will deal with the worst aspects of winter when it happens.    I have learned to extend the autumn and spring seasons in my own psyche and therefore shorten the winter.

Appreciating the autumn season:

I really enjoy autumn - the colours and the still warm weather.  I love the mists and the trees laden with fruits.  Autumn is an easy month to love.  Autumn ends for me when the last leaves fall, the last perennial plants have died down and the cold weather arrives.  This can be any time from mid November to mid December.

Fun ways to enjoy autumn:  (or will do when I have more time)

Plant bulbs to enjoy after the winter is over.

Walk in dry crunchy leaves.  (or wet soggy leaves).

Gather the fruits of the season and make a bowl of lovely colours for my altar or hearth.

Gather fruits and make wine or jam.

Gather berries to make natural dyes for wool and cotton – dye my own wool and fabrics.

Take photographs of the trees and landscape.

Appreciating the spring season:

Spring is another easy season to love.  I enjoy the vibrancy of this time of year – and the new growth.   Although it is cold, (often colder than autumn), the light is growing and has an exhilarating promise that  I love.  For me spring starts at the beginning of February with the growing light when the very first spring flowers appear.

Fun ways to appreciate spring:

Move potted bulbs to be seen from the house.

Start early gardening – cleaning trays and pots for planting.

Watch out for the first snowdrops - January.

Plant early seeds in the house or greenhouse.

This leaves two months or so of real winter.

This is when it is darkest;  it can be icy and difficult, especially if you need to travel.  But I have learned to keep it in perspective.   I accept that it is cold – it is supposed to be.  In the summer it can be hot and this can be just as uncomfortable (and even dangerous.)   Being cold and dark does not make it bad – merely uncomfortable and inconvenient.   And in some respects it is also the most truly optimistic time of year.

Why I like winter

I look forward to having a break and give myself permission to have one.  There is little work in the garden and the dark times mean that I have an excuse to stay indoors and rest.  The dark mornings mean that I can sleep longer at weekends without feeling guilty and without being called by nature to arise and do things.  I have planted winter friendly plants in view of the house – dogwood (Cornus sibirica) who’s red stems glow in winter, and witchazel (Hammamellis) with bright yellow flowers in January.  They look ordinary in summer but shine when the rest of the garden is in deep sleep.

For me there are two halves to winter (before and after Christmas)

Why I like December

I like the run up to the festive season - the lights and the warmth and the promise of a holiday.   I enjoy the bustle and the gift buying, the indulgence and parties.  Although it is dark it is also a warm time full of lights.  This busy time helps to make the first half of winter pass quickly and with joy.

Why I like January

I love the freshness of a psychological new start - the feeling of having all the time in the world.  I love glimpsing the first growing of the light and the anticipation at the very beginning of the year.

Fun ways to appreciate winter

Develop ideas – plan.  Around the fire with a seed catalogue.

Craftwork – knit, spin, sew– plan new projects.

Read.

Write a winter ritual.

Feed garden birds – I do this all year but the winter is an especially good time to see them.

Wear big woolly jumpers, gloves and scarves.

Make decorations and bowls of seasonal items.

Make your own Christmas cards.

Candlelit dinners - I did this even when I was living alone so there is no excuse.

Decorate the dinner table with seasonable items.

Have a midwinter feast.

Put up lights and Yule decorations.

Other ways to love winter

Look for milestones:

Winter solstice – an especially optimistic festival which marks the turning of the year.

The first light in January – usually mid January you will notice one day that it is not quite as dark as it was.

Celebrate the appearance of the first snowdrops – usually mid January onwards.

Look for the signs of new buds on the trees and for the first catkins.

Marking the Seasons turning

Parties – make the best of Samain – dress up and light a lot of candles.  Make a pumpkin lantern.  Enjoy bonfire night .

Celebrate Yule.

Celebrate Christmas  - not necessarily the Christian bit but the holiday bit with family and friends. 

Celebrate Imbolc – perhaps my favourite festival.

Get outside – study the turning of the year in the environment.

Give yourself rewards:

There are many things which can be enjoyed at all times of year but it is a good idea to limit some to winter as a treat.

Mulled wine – this tastes best in midwinter.

Cocoa by the fire or (even better) around a bonfire.

Roast Chestnuts.

Roast parsnips.

Christmas dinner.

Pomegranates.

Crumpets.

Appreciation

Winter is perhaps the most beautiful season.  The leafless trees bring light to the land.  Frost on the ground sparkles and there is a freshness that is often absent from other seasons.

Enjoy it while you can – it will soon pass.