When you live in a ski town, winter is a particularly celebrated time of the year. There are many universal reasons to enjoy winter – hot chocolate, skiing, sledding, building snowmen, snowshoeing, decorating for Christmas, and eggnog (with rum, or without). It seems that every person, regardless of their love for winter — or lack of it — can find one thing about this season that is special to them.
For many of us, there is a long list of cold weather pleasures. Certainly, few can deny its inherent beauty. After a fresh snowfall, a thick, velvety blanket covers the ground, silencing the earth’s vibration beneath it. The purity, before any footsteps or paw prints etch their way across the great expanse of white canvas, is breathtaking. But no matter how much we embrace winter, there are always parts of the season that we’d like to trade. Fresh, local fruits and vegetables are scarce. Going to work in the morning means defrosting your car and scraping ice. Roads can be treacherous. And heating bills rise. So, in addition to the winter activities that are most broadly revered, I like to take comfort in the actual preparations. Preparing for a long, cold winter can become a tradition as enjoyable as cutting down the Christmas tree or baking holiday cookies.
This time of year I like to spend a few dollars on comfort items like fuzzy knit socks. And, if you’re frugal, Vermont’s multitude of consignment shops have an amazing selection of funky, knit socks, hats, gloves and scarves to keep you warm and cozy all winter long. Another fun — and healthy — winter tradition is signing up for a winter Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA). Here in Vermont we enjoy an abundance of wonderful programs. CSA’s allow members to buy shares in a community farm for a relatively small fee. Local food can often be more expensive than store bought items which originate from anywhere across the globe. But many CSA’s are very competitively priced. Every Wednesday, we pick up a bounty of fresh local vegetables and other local products. The vegetables are grown in greenhouses all winter long. Winter vegetable CSA’s are heavy on root vegetables, such as turnips and rutabagas, and they have gotten my family to start eating things like beets, kohlrabi, kale, and Pac Choi on a regular basis. These more exotic items, in addition to fresh local bread, cheese, raw honey, buttermilk flour, and fresh eggs, are a wonderful surprise each week. We never know what we’re getting until we pick up our share. Winter CSA’s are a wonderful tradition that promote healthy eating and encourage experimenting with recipes and lesser known foods.
In the winter, I also like to reflect on my ancestors — 100 years ago, even 200 years ago or more — contemplating the preparations that they had to make to get ready for winter. Today, comforts are so commonplace that it is nearly impossible to imagine what our ancestors had to go through — hunkering down, sealing the house, stacking wood, and canning food. Although we still engage in many of these activities, they are almost always by choice rather than the necessity of years past. Before television — even before radio — when restaurants were not on every corner and cars didn’t exist to take you to them, people spent virtually all their time inside or on their own land. They spent evenings tucked away inside their homes, talking and playing games by candlelight. The sense of family during these months was so much greater than at any other time.
All of this togetherness and tradition can still be a part of our lives today. Let winter be a time of year when we enjoy the obvious snowy weather pastimes like skiing and sledding. But let it also be a time when we focus on nurturing our family, slowing down our lives, and quieting our minds…as the fallen snow quiets the ground beneath our feet.