Making the Most of Winter
Making the Most of Winter
THE DARK MONTHS OF THE YEAR
Growing up in a cold Baltic country I knew how to love the magic of winter. The first snow was always received with awe and joy. I sledged up and down the streets, and the hills and picked snow fights or made snow angels at any opportunity. But in general, the approaching of winter always filled me with a certain kind of dread. My mum and I would refer to winter as a time when your entire body freezes for months just like the cold winter ground. And we awaited the melting brought about by Spring. But as much as I detested walking to school on ice every single day or those 7am freezing bus rides, I always took time to notice the beauty of the season. There’s nothing more magical than how streetlights shine upon a snowy neighbourhood early in the morning. I walked to school and back home through a winter wonderland and it filled my heart with happiness every single day. When I chose to move away, I thought I’d love how much warmer the winters are here in UK. No ice or those -20 degree celcius temperatures… What a breeze, I thought. And the truth is, when you no longer have something you realise just how much you miss it in your life. Nowadays, every winter I look at pictures from my snow-covered country and long to be there - walking through forests, snow crunching under my feet. But as that simply has not been possible in the last few years, I have made it my mission to embrace winter for once and forever, whatever kind I get to experience, with or without snow!
FINDING LIGHT AND WARMTH
The magic of winter lies in the simple things. It’s in taking time to be still, to be quiet, to reflect on the year and snuggle up under blankets on those long winter evenings. It’s making hot chocolate and wrapping presents for people you love. It’s making plans for a new year and breathing in the fresh winter air. In every season I aim to find that special magic that makes it so unique. Winter for me is a time to go back to your roots, just as the trees do, to scale back the expectations to blossom all year round and use this time to rest and go within instead. Over the last years I have found winter to be my most creative time as those long nights provide perfect opportunities to light a candle and take time for creative writing, drawing and crafts. It’s a time when my head fills with new ideas and as the outdoors are not as tempting to get to as in the summer, it quite easy to allow myself some time to explore and pursue those ideas.
Every winter I check in with myself. I reflect on how my life feels and what changes I want to make for next year so I could live a fulfilling and happy life. And every winter I keep reminding myself to find joy in the little moment. So here follows a winter bucket list full of ideas and ways to make the most of the season. Followed by suggestion on how to deal with the overwhelm that can come along with Christmas and the cold days of this season. As well as a few notes on winter festivals and traditions to take notice of and celebrate.
Winter bucket list ideas
Make your own Christmas wreath. Or simply make one in the midst of winter with seasonal foliage to bring a little bit of that natural magic into your home.
Take plenty of walks! (note to self: even when it’s dark, wet and cold. You always feel better once you make yourself get outside).
Make hot chocolate, bake christmas cookies and spend plenty of time snuggling under blankets & watching all your favourite Christmas movies.
Decorate your Christmas tree. If you don’t have one - join in and decorate one with family or friends.
Journal or take time for creative writing. That’s what those long & dark evenings are perfect for!
Step outside & notice what’s going on out in nature. It may seem quiet at first sight, but there’s always life happening around you.
Take plenty of hot bubble baths.
Eat lots and lots of delicious home-cooked meals.
Draw or make (paper cut-outs, glitter & glue - get creative!) your own Christmas cards & send them to your family & friends.
Choose to shop in local & independent shops for your presents. The experience of shopping itself in this way is so much more enjoyable and festive than pushing through a busy shopping centre.
If you have your own business, take a whole day to do your yearly review and plan for 2019! It’s really good to take time to celebrate all that you have achieved this year and set some goals and dreams for the next.
As Christmas is a time of giving, family & forgiveness, find ways to resolve old family issues, help out strangers, volunteer your time to causes you believe in or simply share kindness, festive spirit and gratitude wherever you can.
Watch It’s a Wonderful Life, because there’s no movie that puts your life in perspective and makes you really appreciate all you’ve got as this one.
Pick up a new craft or activity. Knitting, swimming or reading more. Whatever takes your fancy - it’s a great time to get more creative, exercise more often or regularly do something fun. It’s so easy to fill your days with activities in the summer, but it’s important to try new things and go on adventures in winter too.
Go on an adventure! Winter hikes, drives through the countryside or a day trip to a city you’ve not been to before could fill your days with excitement and make winter so much more fun. A true adventurous spirit doesn’t shy away from a little bit of cold!
Taking a step back
As I have been preparing to write this blog post all about how to make the most of this cold and dark season, I found myself entirely overwhelmed. I felt so much pressure to get everything done (work & personal to-do’s, as well as all the Christmas preparations) in time before we take a few days off to enjoy the holidays. The truth is that as much as you might try to make the most of this season, to have fun and really embrace the festive spirit - it can still get you down. Whether it’s all the increased work commitments that seem to pile up before the holidays, the new-found pressure to kick off a better new year & become a productivity guru, or simply getting your home tidied and pretty before all the family and friends descend. It can easily get all a little too much! On top of that, there’s expectations we can put on ourselves to be feeling constantly festive & excited about Christmas. But the truth is, it’s ok if you don’t wrap something up before the new year starts - it doesn’t make you a lesser person. It’s ok, if thoughts of Christmas bring up feelings of loss, family distance and heartache. It’s an emotional as well as beautiful time. There’s always going to be joy, connection as well as stress and sadness. So here’s a list of suggestions to help you find calm and make the most of this season:
Find moments to just be present & have fun!
Scale back expectations. You don’t have to do it all. And you don’t have to be everywhere you are expected or asked to be. Learn to say no to anything that isn’t essential or doesn’t fill you with joy. Prioritise what makes you happy over the holidays.
Embrace the weather. It will be cold & dark. Turn your thoughts to what you enjoy about this time of year. Like snow, or getting to a warm home after a cold day out.
Get cosy! Blankets, wooly socks, cups of coco. Whether you’re getting stuff done or relaxing with a Christmas movie - get comfortable & snug. It makes a huge difference. I for one love to light a candle when I get down to work at my desk and have a blanket at hand - it makes it so much more pleasant.
Prioritise. Is there really nothing at all you can drop from your list? Are there things that could wait till January when you have that extra boost of the new year motivation?
Don’t forget to care for yourself. If you find spending time with lots of friends and family drains your energy, try to give yourself 15 min or an hour to just relax by yourself here and there. Have a quiet cup of tea, take a hot bath, read a book, play an instrument, go for a walk. Give yourself that much needed space & care, even if it’s just in little moments.
🕯If grief overcomes, allow it. Light a candle for the people you’re missing. Write a letter to them, set an extra plate at the table. Remember them & cherish those memories in your heart.
Winter Solstice - Yule
This is a day we all look forward to when the nights grow longer and darker seemingly by the minute through all of autumn. From here - it is only going to get lighter. In pagan traditions winter solstice is celebrated as a symbol of death & rebirth of the sun, the continuation of the cycle of life. A yule log (a selected log from last year’s Christmas fire) is placed in the fire and burnt to mark the end of a year. A new one is selected and kept for next winter. I see winter solstice as a time to celebrate the season in your own way. As it’s an astronomical event rather than a religious holiday, you are at liberty to create your own rituals and traditions to mark this day and this season.
I don’t think I need to introduce anyone to the concept of Christmas, so I will say this instead:
Christmas is not about presents, fancy dinners, exciting holidays away, it’s about family, love, forgiveness, gratitude, miracles & magic. And it’s about the little moments of joy and festive fun. Remember that, and have a beautiful Christmas.
A Quiet New Year’s Eve
I am really not a fan of going out on NYE. Out of all evenings of the year, it’s the worst to get out there - it’s cold, taxis are all booked and transport is a nightmare. All restaurants, pubs and bars are filled with loud groups of people who behave like they’ve never been let outside before. It’s really an introvert’s nightmare. So I choose to stay in, have a quiet cosy night with a small group of my favourite people and enjoy the last night of the year with mulled wine, movies, board games, and a walk up a hill somewhere with a bottle of bubbly to watch the fireworks & toast the start of the new year. When I was younger and still living in Lithuania I spent my favourite New Year eves with my siblings & cousins at our grandparent’s home. Those quiet celebrations with my absolutely favourite people in the world are some of my fondest memories in life. So this is a friendly reminder to do NYE your own way! Whatever form it takes - embrace it and enjoy it.
Uzgavenes - 46 days before Easter
It’s a Lithuanian tradition that’s a bit of a mix between Halloween and Pancake Tuesday. We eat pancakes, kids dress up in costumes of witches, devils, or creepy monsters alike, and we gather together and tell winter to get the hell out of our yards. It’s cooky and I love it. It always comes at a time when you’re really feeling like winter is just going to carry on forever and it’s a perfect boost of hope and a reminder to have fun. So feel free to adopt this tradition, make pancakes and sweep the remains of winter out of your own yard.
It may seem like winter is an awful time for photography. But in fact, although the days are shorter and there is seemingly less light to work with, it can have quite an opposite effect. Winter midday light is far more flattering for portraiture than a harsh summer sun. It’s a great time to get outdoors for a photoshoot and embrace that even, flat light. Direct winter sunlight has a certain quality about it that can be embraced in an entirely different way. The lack of natural light in winter can encourage you to look more deeply for sources of light around you. Take notice of all the festive fairy lights and beautiful window displays, pay attention to how Christmas decorations create lovely colour & reflection displays. Photograph in candle light or by the window. There’s plenty of light in winter that can be magical & so wonderful to capture, you must simply take the time to look!. There are also plenty of fun activities and family gatherings to record. So get your camera and begin noticing the beauty in the ginger bread baking afternoons, gift wrapping by the fire and embrace the seasonal foliage and colours of nature. This time of year is full of magic, you simply need to look.