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The importance of wintering and those Life Happens moments

22nd February 2021 By James Ellaby
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2021 hasn’t started the way any of us would have wanted. Schools, restaurants and shops have been closed. Friends and families have had to continue to stay apart. That’s before you even get onto the weather, which has generally been dark and either cold or wet. So far, we’ve all been wintering through 2021.

During these hard times I recently read a book called ‘Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times’ by Katherine May. Written before we could even imagine ‘lockdown’ (it was published in February 2020) it’s the perfect soul food right now, an honest and often funny reflection of the author’s reaction to difficult times as well as a look at winter and ‘wintering’ in general.


Winter generally gets a bad reputation here in the UK. Oddly enough for a nation that generally doesn’t get extremes of summer or winter weather, we’ve been programmed to believe that winter is something we all need to ‘get through’ so we can enjoy the long, hot BBQ summer in beer gardens that gets promised every year and rarely shows up.

Of course, winter can be very hard, even in normal times. People suffer from SAD and find it a very difficult time, and for those without homes or the privilege of being able to heat them enough to stay warm, the colder months can be horrific. That’s why it’s more important than ever that we all help them get the support they need.

But for the rest of us, those who can stay warm and safe, is winter really a season to be endured with dreams of summer holidays? In Wintering, Katherine May addresses this point directly:

“Once we stop wishing it were summer, winter can be a glorious season when the world takes on a sparse beauty, and even the pavements sparkle. It’s a time for reflection and recuperation, for slow replenishment, for putting your house in order.”

Wintering, she says is “a season in the cold. It is a fallow period in life when you’re cut off from the world”. That’s certainly what we’ve all been going through for some time now, but it can happen at any time in our lives. It could be caused by a break-up, a bereavement, an illness, redundancy, any drastic change in life that leaves us floundering. And yes, it can happen in the summertime too.

Life Happens

At Social, our one corporate value is Life Happens, which means that we are there for our clients when the unexpected happens but also that the company is there for us as colleagues, supporting us through those moments when we need it. Those aren’t just words on a website either, it’s ingrained in the culture here and we’ve all benefitted from that during this long wintering period over the last 11 months.

Appropriately enough, towards the end of the book, May talks about how her plans for it had shifted while writing and she hadn’t done everything she’d planned: “But in the process, life happened. Life happened a great deal, actually.”

If life hadn’t happened, she had planned to travel more and explore various winter traditions from around the world that help people get through the wintering times in their lives. Some of the stories from the places she did visit are wonderful, so I won’t spoil them here (go read the book, in other words), but there’s much we can learn from other cultures.

Wintering around the world

Here are some traditions that we could use to help us get through these last weeks of wintering:

Hygge – This isn’t a new one for us, and we reached ‘peak Hygge’ a few years ago. But that doesn’t mean now isn’t a good time to sit down and actually read that Little Book of Hygge that someone bought you for Christmas 2016. Of course, it’s a Danish cultural ‘feeling’ of cosiness and relaxation, and you don’t need to buy anything to teach you how to do it. Simply get cosy on a cold winter’s evening, light a candle and read a good book.

Yuzu Baths – When the weather outside is frightful or your life is in a wintering phase, a nice warm bath can do wonders for your wellbeing and mood. They know this in Japan, where there’s a winter tradition of taking long hot baths filled with a citrus fruit called yuzu. It dates back hundreds of years and is also meant to bring good luck, which we could all do with more of this year. If you can’t find a yuzu at your local supermarket, any citrus bath bomb or bubble bath will do.

The Nine Nines – If you’ve ever read about productivity, you’ll know that breaking up something difficult into manageable chunks is a good way to make it easier. In Mongolia, winters can be long and incredibly hard, so they use something they call The Nine Nines to help them get through the most brutal 81 days after the winter solstice. They break it up into nine-day periods with each one signifying the changing conditions as winter first gets more intense (‘vodka congeals and freezes’) and then spring starts to arrive (‘boiled rice no longer congeals and freezes’).

Feeding the Animals – In Lithuania, they have a tradition of going out into the wild to feed animals like deer and wild boar that are unable to find their usual supplies of food because of the snow. They take out potatoes, hay and vegetables to care for their wild animals. In the UK this act could be as simple as putting out bird feeders and keeping them stocked up during the winter, which also has the wellbeing benefit of bring lots of birds to your garden or balcony for you to watch.

Wintering, especially in the time of Covid, can be a long and hard process. But spring is coming, both as a season and as a feeling as we all emerge from our lockdown slumber into a vaccinated world. But life happens and goes on in winter, and we can all find the joys and the benefits of wintering whenever it comes to us.

“Life meanders like a path through the woods. We have seasons when we flourish, and seasons when the leaves fall from us, revealing our bare bones. Given time, they grow again. Life goes on, abundantly, in winter, and this is where changes are made that usher us into future glories.” Katherine May, Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat In Difficult Times