When my spouse and I first got together, they hated winter. An early career spent outdoors in the worst of the weather caused a strong aversion to everything related to the months of the inward spiral. Seven years on, they’ve shifted their viewpoint to a grudging tolerance for the season and genuine enjoyment of some parts of it. I’m claiming it as a victory.
You see, I love winter. I think a combination of some aspects of my upbringing coupled with how I approach my spirituality and lifestyle makes for a more enjoyable season. Seeing my spouse slowly shift their opinion over the years tells me there’s wiggle room for people in terms of being able to open to the season. So if you’re not feeling it this year, or find wintertime challenging in general, here are some ways I welcome winter into my life. As with all things, your mileage may vary, but maybe something here will take the edge off the season for you.
1) Be mindful of what you’re focusing on. One of the phrases I apply to multiple areas of life, and find useful here as well is ‘you find what you seek.’ Think back – was there a time when you liked the season? Lean into that. Remember how exciting it was when the first flurries fell? The first snowfall of any accumulation at all, I would run around the outside of my house barefoot. Some weird 7-year-old-Irene ritual to welcome the winter and request enough snow to get me out of school.
Actual footage of me as a 7-year-old
The other day when I was walking the dogs, the first real snow started here in western Maryland. I felt delight and excitement course through me as the flakes fell, and I held my arms out in front of me so I could see the contrast of the white flakes on my black coat. You see, I try to stay close to my inner child. 7-year-old-Irene still lives here. If you can, tap into the kid within you that loves sledding, makes snow sculptures, and gets excited for winter weather.
I love holiday light displays. It’s less about the winter holidays and more about the beauty of little points of light in darkness, or the glow of lights on the snow. I’ve always had a penchant for bright, shiny things – probably part of why I resonate with crow energy so much. I make a point of looking for and going to a few holiday light displays every year. I love the woods in winter. You can see so far into the distance without all the greenery. I take hikes on weekends when the weather is clement enough for it.
If you look for misery in winter, you’ll find it. The cool thing is that if you look for pleasure in winter, you’ll find that too, whether it’s tiny lights shining in the darkness or something else. So, think back – what did you love about winter? What things do you find beautiful about it now? Then, seek those. Focus on them.
2) Get outside when you can. One of the nice things about having dogs is that I am taken for a walk every day. Even if getting outside just means standing on the porch for a few minutes, do it. Bundle up as needed – there’s a Norwegian saying: “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes” – grab some new gloves/long underwear as needed. The right clothes make all the difference, and there’s usually a good selection of warm clothing at your local Goodwill or secondhand store.
While you’re outside, notice the winter world. What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you see? Here in the mid Atlantic, the birdsong shifts and different voices are more present. There’s more quiet, making the rustle of the squirrels as they careen through the fallen leaves more noticeable. Sometimes when I’m walking the dogs, I’ll focus on just one sense and pay full attention to what that sense is telling me. It’s a great way to connect with the natural world, and to become fully present in the moment.
If you have land or a balcony and live in a part of the world where winter birds live, consider adding a bird feeder or water source and tending it. The rhythm of winter means different fauna and flora are present, and after a few rounds of observing winter more consciously, you may find that you get excited to see your winter cousins. I know I’m always thrilled to see the first junco arrive at the feeder.
Remember, we are people who revere the earth as sacred. That means all parts of it, all phases of the seasons. Choose to connect to the rhythm of winter where you live, to tap in to what’s happening around you. Try to spend a little time outside several times a week, daily if you can manage it.
3) Shift your Altar’s decorations. I love to change my altar over for the seasons. The working and devotional items on the altar do not change, but I switch out the altarcloth and offering bowls to match where we are on the Wheel of the Year. Sometimes I add natural objects – pinecones, stones, and feathers that come into my life. Consider shifting your altar over for winter. For me, that means blue, silver, and white – wintry colors. Depending on where you live, it might be earth tones and the bright blue of the winter sky or the whites and grays of deep snow. Remember that you can upcycle items you already own for this purpose, or get altar dressings used from secondhand stores. Most places like Goodwill have a large selection of inexpensive scarves, candleholders, and other little touches that can support a seasonal connection in your sacred space.
4) Get cozy. This is the powerful counterpoint to spending a little time outside. It’s so lovely to walk back in to a warm, welcoming space after a wintertime saunter. The nordic practice of hygge has become a bit commercialized at this point (please do not feel compelled to buy hygge-labeled candles or any other bric a brac), but the underlying philosophy is sound. Make your dwelling space more cozy. For my home, this means lighting candles and lowering the artificial light levels after the sun sets. It means more blankets and pillows on the couch for snuggling. We also recently added an artificial fireplace to our living room. It may seem silly, but it’s added nicely to the feeling of warmth and safety. It uses LED lights to create the effect of firelight and acts as a space heater. Curling up on the couch to read at night has never been cozier.
Coziness includes activities and gatherings. Many of us have close friends and family members who are vaccinated, boosted, and practicing appropriate covid precautions outside the home. Consider getting together for a game or movie night with your nearest and dearest. It’s the perfect time for board games, puzzle solving, and LOTR marathons (or whatever your comfort movie/movie series is). One of the challenging parts of winter is ending up isolated, especially in a pandemic year. Small gatherings are a cozy, safe way to stay connected.
5) Choose Winter Work. Speaking of reading as a form of coziness, one tradition I love is the practice of Winter Work. Simply put, Winter Work is a course of study, project, or other inward-spiral oriented focus for the dark months. This year, my Work is ancestral. I’m taking Christopher Penczak’s Mighty Dead course and strengthening my connection to both my own blood ancestors and the wise, holy ancestors of Witchcraft as a whole. Winter Work should be something nourishing, something you enjoy, that will support you in your life. This could be really getting into embroidery or woodworking, making space for painting or playing music, rereading a beloved book series that inspires you, or doing some self work in a structured way (without structure, we tend to just fall back into phone scrolling or whatever our default time-filler is).
This time of cold and darkness allows the natural world to recover and reset for the next growing season. By doing Winter Work, we follow the same pattern of drawing inward in order to heal and strengthen ourselves.
6) Eat seasonally. I’m pretty sure I learned this from my mother, and I didn’t even realize that I do it until my spouse pointed it out to me. At this point, my instinctual cravings are for seasonal dishes. In spring and summer, I like light, cool foods – salads, cold pastas, etc. Come winter? It’s root vegetable season, baby! I love soups, stews, roasts, and other savory, warming foods.
I’m not telling you that you need to start hitting the farmer’s market every week (although that would be cool), but adding in some seasonal foods can help connect you to the season as well as ancestral memory of winter. Right now, long-storing squash like butternut and pumpkin, root veggies like sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, and turnips, cold-tolerant greens like cabbage, brussels sprouts, and kale and hardy seasonings like rosemary and onion would all be part of the winter diet. Consider adding in sides of roasted root veggies, or choosing a warming soup as one of your meals this week. And then lean in – savor it. Think about how wonderful the savory flavors of winter are.
At the end of this blog, I’m going to post some of my favorite winter recipes in case you like to cook or are looking for inspiration.
7) Build in Restfulness. Many of our warm-blooded brethren are hibernating right now and there is evidence that early humans may have done so as well. In the Western world, most of us operate at an almost constant level of sleep deprivation. Take a look at your calendar and block off some days for ‘nothing.’ This is especially important if you are part of a family that participates in the tilt-a-whirl of the Christmas season.
Consider getting more and better sleep this winter. There’s a full blog on sleep here, so I’m not going to rehash old material, but I do have one thing to add. We have a new evening ritual that we started a month ago when I was having some stress management issues that impacted my sleep. It’s been so lovely that we’ve continued it. An hour before bedtime (9 pm in our house), my spouse and I have a cup of relaxation or sleepy-time tea. Nothing with caffeine in it – we’ve been rotating between chamomile blends, catnip blends, and Yogi brand relaxation tea. We snuggle on the couch with our tea and read. It’s been just lovely, and the quality of sleep for both of us has improved.
So, those are my top seven ways to deepen, connect, and enjoy wintertime more. What do you like to do to connect to the season? Hit me up in the comments. Keep scrolling for winter recipes.
Have you converted to the cult of SOUP yet? No? Then let me lay upon you my ALL TIME FAVORITE winter soup – borsch. Don’t make that face – it’s fucking amazing and the Russians and Ukranians really know how to make excellent winter food. Here’s a link to my favorite recipe for it. The only changes I make are to omit the honey (I’m weirdly sensitive to sweet flavors and don’t think it needs sweetening), sour cream (lactose intolerant) and like…octuple (is that a word?) the fresh dill. I looooove dill.
And can we talk about CURRY? It is definitely curry weather. This is my spouse’s favorite curry: Butter Chickpea Curry. It’s super easy to make, savory and delicious, and serves well over rice. Also, the ‘Butter’ in the title refers to how creamy this dish tastes, but there is no butter in it. If you use nondairy creamer, the dish is completely dairy free. And vegan! And gluten free! AND DELICIOUS.
I’m going to write this one out because I have strayed a bit far from the original. One of the stars of the root vegetable world is the sweet potato, but it seems like sweet potatoes get relegated to this weird almost-dessert place in western cooking when they’re just fabulous as a main dish. So, get your tummy ready for an awesome dairy-free gratin because HERE WE GO
Sweet Potato Gratin
- 2 lbs sweet potatoes
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil
- ½ tsp dried chili flakes
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tbsp maple syrup
- 1 13.5 oz can coconut milk
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ½ cup almond butter
- Zest and juice of one lime
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Peel the sweet potatoes and slice them into thin slivers – as thin as you can without making them transparent. Place the slices in a large bowl and add 2 tbsp oil, chili flakes, garlic, maple syrup, coconut milk, salt and pepper. Toss until slices are evenly coated.
In a gratin dish or 9”x13” baking dish, lay out half of the sweet potato slices along the bottom of the dish.
In a separate bowl, mix together remaining tbsp of oil, almond butter, lime zest and lime juice until smooth. Spread this mixture in dollops around the top of the layer of sweet potato slices. Cover the almond butter layer with the remaining sweet potato slices. Pour the remaining coconut milk mixture over the gratin. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 30 minutes.
And one last one for the meat eaters. JAMBALAYA. I make a double batch of this because it is THAT damn good. This recipe is pretty easy to follow. File powder isn’t always available locally, so I get mine from Penzeys. Other than that, you should be able to find everything for this warm-you-to-the-bones dish at your local grocery store. The only changes I make to this recipe are to use vegetable oil rather than peanut, vegetable stock rather than chicken stock, and 1 lb of shrimp rather than 1 lb of chicken.
These are my favorites. Feel free to link additional recipes for wintry goodness in the comments!
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