Examining how northern cultures cope with winter

Scandinavia, Russia, Alaska, Greenland and Iceland, even Great Britain, Germany and Poland share our Canadian latitude

Eleanor Deckert

At this time of year I wonder if winter will ever be over.

OK, I can tell that the light is returning. I am thankful that it is not frigid. The supply in the wood shed is generous and the garden provisions are lasting. But still, it’s the “same old same old” as far as limited activities.

My mind wanders to times past and I ask myself, “What did other people do?”

My mind wanders around the globe and I wonder, “How do people in other northern climes manage these never-ending months of indoor activities?”

Cultures in Scandinavia, Russia, Alaska, Greenland and Iceland, even Great Britain, Germany and Poland share our Canadian latitude.

How do they manage food storage, fuel, clothing, family matters, community, transportation, and mental health during the dark part of the year?

Instantly pictures pop into my mind. Clothing requires the lengthy preparation of furs and leather, wool and linen. Root cellars store large amounts of easily grown plant foods: cabbage, turnips, potatoes, carrots, beets, apples. Wood is the only fuel that warms you three times: 1) while you cut it. 2) while you burn it. 3) as you recall happy times past.

The northern lifestyle requires a great deal of time spent to prepare for an endure winter.

Looking past the basic necessities of life, it may be no wonder that much of what we call our culture developed in these northern regions. With so many indoor days and evenings, inventive minds, creative artists, composing musicians, theatre dramatists, and authors of great literature, all develop, thrive and expand. Even religious expressions in these locations become complex and elaborate.

We have Russia to thank for “The Nutcracker Suite” and “Swan Lake.” We have Denmark to thank for Anderson’s fairy tales. Saint Nicholas and all of our Christmas and Pagan wintertime customs originate in northern cultures.

Wide bands of embroidery mark clothing in Poland and Lapland. Tatted laces embellish petticoats. Knitting and weaving patterns, tartans and crests identify regions and clans.

In First Nations and other cultures before printing press times, storytelling filled the hours. Legends and myth, heroes and history, fairy-folk and dreams, jokes and ballads enriched these impoverished months.

Looking at all these things, it seems to me, that I can value this culture-rich time, enjoy my hobbies, connect with family and friends to share news and stories.


By accepting the very real physical limitations and stretching my imagination to explore possibilities, I can connect with the past, enjoy the present and make something beautiful to share in the future.