It was Henry David Thoreau who captured in words the essence of seasonal living:
Live in each season as it passes: breathe the air, drink the drink,
taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.
At no other time in the year is this more relevant than during winter. In England our winters are milder than in other regions of the northern hemisphere, although they are still cold, damp and dark. We rise in the morning in the dark, make our way to work and school in the dark and then make our way home again, in the dark. Shakespeare’s familiar phrase ‘winter of our discontent’ can seem very apt on those cold, sun-deprived days. Often one hears people bemoaning the fact that summer has gone and that winter has come, complaining about how much they dislike it and all that it entails.
And yet it strikes me that such resistance to the coming season, is indeed, futile. Eckhart Tolle, in his very brilliant and life-enhancing work, A New Earth, writes about the need to accept that which we cannot change, about the crazy way in which we try to deny that which simply “is”. Whether we like it or not, winter will come, we can resist it, which will just make us unhappy, or we can choose to accept it. Even better, one could try to embrace it and search for the gifts that winter has to offer us.
So, what does this mean in practice? The most obvious gift winter has to offer, for those who celebrate it, is Christmas. It is no coincidence that such a festival of celebration, food, and gifts is to be found in the middle of winter. Historically, before Christianity, there was a pagan winter festival celebrated in the depths of winter so that people might have something to anticipate during a time when winter was very much a season to overcome. My husband is South African and after spending ten years in England says that he really understand this about Christmas now. In South Africa Christmas is in the middle of the summer and has a very different feel to it, compared to in England where it becomes a focus for us to get us through cold and dark days. Christmas, therefore, is a gift of winter, a time for us to enjoy it in our own different ways.
For me personally, winter signifies a time when my family and I spend more time together. In the summer and autumn months my children play outside a lot, in the gardens and in and out of neighbour’s houses. Yet, in the winter, when we are all driven inside, I appreciate the opportunity for us to snuggle up and make our way through a pile of library books. To spend time in the kitchen together baking, painting and making a variety of homes for toy animals out of cardboard boxes. To have movie afternoons, sharing some old classics with my girls. It can be a time to brighten up a dull winter’s Sunday afternoon by inviting friends over to share roast lamb and a fruit crumble with us. A time to read gardening books and make overly ambitious plans for the coming Spring. Heading out for walks in the frost or snow, with a flask of hot chocolate and some ginger cake is also one of my favourite things to do. Not only do we get out for some much needed fresh air, but we then get to come home again with red noses and frozen hands, to then warm up and revel in the fact that we are lucky enough to have such a warm and cosy home in which to spend the winter. For us it can be a season to reconnect, to be at home, to enjoy our home.
Winter may not be everyone’s favourite season of the four but it certainly has its own charms and gifts for us to appreciate. Of all the seasons it is the one in which I feel most contemplative. The time around Christmas and New Year’s is when I will treat myself to a beautiful new journal. In it I will make plans for myself and for my family for the year ahead. I will spend time reflecting on those things which I would like to be my focus during the year. I will do some research in to new books I would like to read and make a list in my journal. I will reflect on the year gone by, on how my children have grown and changed, how I myself have also grown and changed — and do little by little each year. Each year I get a little bit wiser and more comfortable in my own skin. These are the things I contemplate as I watch the snow fall, watch the robin making visits to the bird table, and as I light the candles I feel the gratitude for such a calming season that we all need. Winter invites us to slow down, remember that which is important and to celebrate the majesty of the changing seasons.
Michala Haresnape is a mother of two little girls, six and three, and a part-time high school teacher of Religion. She lives in Surrey, England and blogs here.