Winter is coming. From the first Starbucks holiday cups in December to the first snowfall on Jan. 1, we’re only a short time away from the craziness of all the Christmas shopping, bracing for the cold weather, the incessant Christmas caroling and the Swedish-style ice fishing — all of which brings with it more than a month of fun. But it also means a shift to a new lifestyle.
Every time winter has rolled around in the last two decades, the transition to winter routine has been dramatic. When I lived in Stockholm five years ago, I would take the morning walk to the outskirts of town, only to end up in the freezing water of the canal at around 4:30 a.m. With my boots on, I waded through, pulling out any piece of trash I could from the water and onto dry land. A few months back, my Swedish friend Karin took our daughter to an ice fishing pond, deep-freezing enough in the water that her little finger swelled and swelled before dropping right back to normal. Even those who love living outside embrace winter in a new way.
Obviously, early morning walks don’t come easy — they can be dangerous. Walking in the white wilderness of winter is like an urban adventure in which you race against the clock in your favorite jeans and T-shirt. But with enough Nordic friends, you can make the trek. If you are not a city person, you can use a 15-minute excursion to heat up over hot chocolate. Just pack a sweater and warm socks, with a hat and gloves in case you need to stay warm in the snow. Since there will be no Timbits as we face winter, make sure to load up on fresh berries, apples, oranges and any other fruit or vegetables you like to freeze in the frozen-over leaves in your crisper.
The U.S. winter lifestyle is different in a number of ways. We are committed to cooking breakfast and eating a full morning meal. Since coffee is usually not part of the morning meal, there is no rush to get out the door for coffee. This is a good thing for kids who have to get up at an earlier time in the morning, especially during those blustery days. When it is colder, breakfast can be a really easy way to connect with your children. Hosting a potluck can be fun, especially when you bring together friends and family in a great big breakfast buffet. (If you have family from Sweden that comes to visit, plan a roundtable gathering so that everyone can participate.)
You can create an extra leisure time in winter by using the time to just sit and enjoy nature. That means all of those cozy hats, gloves and coats on the kids, do get out and walk in the winter woods!
The last thing you want to have to do in winter is shovel snow. They are so kind of be a daunting and exciting task when you get there. Snow plowing machines can be very noisy and sometimes scary. My boys didn’t want to go back out on the driveway again until they learned how to snowplow. The fact that the vehicles are heavily coated with butter cream-colored snow and they run along like giant coolers that never run out of gas means that kids will want to stay in the car until the job is done. Teach them the tools, the process and how to build their confidence. If they see you taking a break and easing the pressure by going down to the basement while you shovel, you may get it down when the job is done.
In case you are not an avid history person, don’t forget the magic and richness of the Scandinavian heritage. Scandinavians are very seasonal when it comes to holiday celebration and lifestyle. There are blue and white wreaths, white trees, lots of sparkly Christmas lights and the end of November and the beginning of December is actually when they host the most celebrations and events.
You can find plenty of hobbies and crafts that were created in winters like making paper garlands and candles, knit sweaters and infinity-loop necklaces, welcoming the new year with an ice skating party and putting up huge white curtains to add warmth and light to a room. Add this to the abundance of these special holidays in your life and you’ll know why Nordic folks are so famously happy all year round.