Tag Archives: Winter

Dreaming of a . . .

It rained on Christmas Eve (Heiligabend here in Germany).

“Well,” we said, “a white Christmas would have been nice.”

And then the temperature dropped, the rain turned to snow, and the snow stuck.

I haven’t seen snow, real falling snow, in a really long time and I laughed. Outside, I threw my head back and tasted.

It snowed on the way home, late.

I took off a glove, touched the flakes on a bush, tasted.

And there was still snow on Christmas Day (Weihnachten here in Germany).

So I put on my new boots and went outside to play.

In Praise of Wool Socks

I am generally not a warm person. As in, my body is usually rather chilly and I am almost always looking for extra layers. (You’d think, wrongly, that I would be better at planning accordingly.) As far as I know, genetics are to blame for the poor circulation in my hands and feet, which turn white when cold and red when hot. It looks strange and can also be quite physically uncomfortable. (I’m told there’s a name for this but I never remember what it is.) Stranger is the phenomenon by which one of my hands is a normal temperature and the other, usually the one holding the book and not tucked into the blankets, is freezing.

Since returning to a cold climate, I have become reacquainted with the problem of keeping my feet warm, and I’m not sure how I previously managed it. Observation suggests that most people walk around in the winter without being in pain all the time and I spent the earliest cold days hoping to learn their secret. Perhaps, I initially reasoned, I was simply not used to so much walking around in the cold. After all, this is my first winter as a European resident, relying on walking and cycling for transportation regardless of the weather. Getting into a car in North America really doesn’t require too much time outside, and certainly not on the coldest days. But then again, I lived in New York City for a winter and certainly walked there. We had snow that year, too! Or perhaps I am just not as hardy as Germans, who casually do wild things like eat ice cream outdoors in all seasons.

Given my bemusement with the whole situation, you’ll understand why I was shocked when, after I mentioned my cold feet to a few friends, one asked, “Are you wearing wool socks?”

Well no, I wasn’t. I owned one pair and as far as life had led me to believe, they were for hiking. And my ski socks (for skiing) seemed to have vanished (and have since been replaced).

“You should try it,” my friends urged. “It’ll help.”

Who would’ve thought?

Fast forward. Turns out not all socks that look like wool are made of wool and you get what you pay for. Turns out there can be different amounts of wool in wool socks, and that some contain more synthetic materials than others, which may or may not be a bad thing. Turns out thick wool socks fit differently (and not very well) into certain pairs of tight boots. Turns out wool socks keep my feet comfortable enough, though not as warm as I’d been led to believe. (I might need to conduct further trials into my choice of footwear, but maybe that is a project for next winter.)

So I am trying to adapt to winter in Germany: Dress in many layers. Wear wool socks. Always have a scarf. Earmuffs are a good replacement for a hat, but everyone else will be wearing a hat. Children and teenagers never seem cold, even when they should be. Carry a backpack. Ride your bike slowly if it might be icy. Always be prepared to sit outside. Breathe the fresh air. Drink hot tea. Look up at the stars. Enjoy the rare days with sunshine.

Get ready, people keep telling me. Winter only gets colder.

It’s a good thing I have wool socks.

Weimar, Germany – December 2021

This Time of Year

There’s a fun little calendar on the window sill. Its colourful flip pages track not only day of the week, month, date, and year, but also weather, season, and moon phase, which makes more sense when you consider that the day of the week and month are in Hebrew. I purchased this calendar at an art museum in Israel many years ago and it has travelled around the world with me. Before that, it sat on my desk when I taught at Catholic school. When an astounded student asked, “You can read that?” I had to clarify that Hebrew and hieroglyphics are not the same thing and my choice of the falling leaves picture (rather than sleeping forest animals, for instance) simply meant that leaves were falling.

Neither the illustrations of falling leaves nor sleeping animals have been used in quite some time. Seasons are far more subtle on the equator, signified by a shift in wind that changes the texture of the air and how it feels on the skin. There might be more or less rain, but that’s about it.

As I write this, I’ve flipped the weather image to “partly sunny”; we’ve been at “cloudy” for days. It is nice to watch the world change.

Last night, the air smelled like winter. Fresh, clean, sharp, coming down from high places rather than emanating from the ground like summer air. I could smell the grass when I first arrived here in July, and to say that I could not get over it is both silly and the truth.

Tonight is the first night of Chanukah, which I always think of, incorrectly, as a winter holiday. The lunar calendar shifts, after all. Chanukah commemorates the destruction of Jewish communities by the Greeks and the efforts made by groups of rebels to protect themselves and their Holy Temple. A tiny jar of oil burned for eight days, the story says, and we light candles for eight days in commemoration. Traditionally, there are delicious fried foods and a game that uses a spinning top called a dreidel in Yiddish. The only dreidel I currently have is a decorative one that I received as a Bat Mitzvah gift a shocking number of years ago. It hangs, as it always has, year-round in front of a window. My menorah (more accurately, chanukiah) was a Bat Mitzvah gift, too.

This brings me back to the calendar. My Bat Mitzvah, my coming of age in the eyes of the Jewish community, fell on the second night of Chanukah and also on American Thanksgiving weekend. It snowed that night.

We have snow in the forecast this week, as well, but right now we have a sunny morning. The sun came out in full force yesterday afternoon, and suddenly the world looked a little bit bigger. We were no longer huddled under a cloud. Yesterday, I was out in the rain to mail a stack of postcards and commented about the weather in all of them. I knew how easy it was to live on the equator, and I thought about it every time I ran out of the house in sandals and a tank top late in the evening because I suddenly decided I wanted a specific vegetable for dinner, but I didn’t remember how many actions were required to do the same when it’s dark in the middle of the afternoon and only getting colder.

I do think Chanukah comes at a good time of year. My consumption of fried foods will be limited, but I am looking forward to the glow from the candles. It feels different in a cold place.

May this time of year, with all of it festivals, traditions, rituals, and holidays, be a peaceful time for all. Chag sameach!

Weimar, Germany – November 2021