A week ago, we met up with our friends for a post-skiing reunion with fondue and white wine. It’s the kind of food you really can only eat in the depths of winter, those freezing days when you come in stamping your feet and rubbing your hands in front of your mouth, peeling off layer after layer of warm clothes in the warmth of your friend’s flat.
After we’d shown each other photos and sighed again over just how magnificent the French Alps are, we wrapped ourselves up and headed out for the local Buergbrennen festivities. There, a few kilometres down the road, a huge bonfire was burning, the massive X of wood sending heat and light out into the surrounding field, where fifty or so locals had gathered to watch.
It’s an old tradition in this region, to mark the passing of Winter and the coming of Spring. The massive fires are to chase away the cold and the dark. We stood as close as we were allowed to the warmth and hope this quaint tradition may have some luck at ushering in Spring.
The next morning dawned bright and clear. Wall to wall sunshine for the first day in weeks. I walked to my morning volunteer job with a spring in my step, and spied tiny buds pushing through the cold earth in one flower bed. Yes! Spring is coming! I thought happily. Winter is nearly over.
One week on and we’ve spent most of the last six days under snow and ice. Today it swept in again, big heavy wet flakes that make the roads slushy and your coat wet.
And yet I am not too disappointed yet. Somehow I have managed to enjoy this winter. Yesterday, showing a visiting friend around the German city of Trier on an empty Sunday afternoon, Rasmus and I caught snowflakes on our tongues, and the town was beautiful like a postcard. I was so happy it was winter.
I can’t quite figure out what’s made the difference this year. When others have complained, I can acknowledge that it’s cold, can see that it’s still so gloomy. But I’m less impatient for the Spring. I’m more content to see this one through, to try and be present in each wintery day.
There are little things I’ve done to embrace it…
I’ve made fresh soup nearly every week and enjoyed how comfortingly warm it is.
We found a second-hand rocking chair last month and I love curling up in it with a blanket, the cushions my mum knitted, and the book I’m reading.
I drink lots of tea – chamomile, and nettle tea with lots of honey.
I’ve joined a gym and I think this easy way of getting exercise and movement into my day when I’m tempted to just hibernate, has given me more energy, more motivation.
I’ve made sure to get enough sleep, even going to bed earlier than Rasmus many nights, which I really don’t like much, but I know without it I become a grouch, and that’s no fun for anyone.
I bought heather plants, and the sight of them still growing outside our kitchen window, even when their neighbours are all withered and dead, has given me joy.
I’ve taken lots of baths. They’re such a perfect winter pleasure, because who wants to be that hot in the summer? So I light candles, bring in my book or maybe put on a favourite happy TV show (yes, we have a TV in our bathroom – “bizarre but brilliant” as Ellie declared) and enjoy feeling warm all the way through.
I make the most of every patch of sunshine. I go stand in it when I’m waiting for the bus, even if it’s not right at the bus stop. If the sun shines into my study while I’m working, I’ll pick up my laptop and go sit in it, follow it as it moves around the room.
I enjoy the sunrise. It’s rare that I’m up early enough in the summer to see it, but oh how beautiful that moment is, when the light is so clean and clear, and the birds are all going just a little crazy outside.
I’ve marked the winter holidays. St Lucia, Advent, Winter Solstice, Christmas, Epiphany, Ash Wednesday. They’ve kept me company even when it’s been hard, reminded me we’re all living part of this great cycle that comes around each year, which keeps going no matter what.
I’ve enjoyed winter food. Parsnips and swede and leek and chicons and blood oranges and salsify and brussel sprouts and pumpkin. Really, it’s my favourite food time of year, so I have made sure to make the most of every meal.
There’s a proverb that says, “All the days of the afflicted are bad, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast”. To me this says, yes there will be dark days and difficult days. But your outlook, your perspective on them can make an amazing difference. Do I stay glum and complaining and pity myself, or do I choose to recognise every gift in my life, however small.
I have felt these last two months like I am starting to do better at this recognising the gifts. Starting to do better about allowing the little things, the small joys, the ordinary successes to define how I feel about myself and my days, rather than always striving to be more. I’m definitely not anywhere close the there yet, wherever there might be. But I feel my shoulders relax more often, feel my breathing slow, let myself stop and rest when I’m not yet finished.
In chasing the light these last months I’ve found myself chasing joy without even realising it. This new word for the year was not like the last one – Brave came in loud and needed and forcing me out of my comfort zone. Joy came in quietly and I’ve almost forgotten at times that I have this one word. But then I stop and notice, that yes, I’m chasing it and more often I am starting to find it.
All photos by me on instagram.