How I Learned to Love Winter
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) whose red stems glow in winter, and witch-hazel (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
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 Samhain - dress up and light a lot of candles. Make a pumpkin lantern. Enjoy bonfire night.
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 - tastes best in midwinter
Cocoa by the fire or (even better) around a bonfire
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.