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Instead of hating winter, should we embrace it? Who better to ask than adventurer and former meteorologist Felicity Aston, the first woman to ski alone across Antarctica
I arrived at the Pole of Cold monument in the Siberian village of Oymyakon, the world’s coldest inhabited place, to find Chyskhan, Lord Keeper of the Cold, waiting for me. As our breath made clouds in temperatures that fell below -50°C he advised, “People should be smiling in the cold and taking winter as a friend, not as an enemy.”
Winter as a friend? Many people enduring disrupted commutes in a sodden, gloomy winter might find it hard to agree. Even Chyskhan, after his speech, asked hurriedly through chattering teeth if he might have a lift home. Yet, with a little thought, it is easy to find many reasons to celebrate this most maligned of seasons.
In the north of Norway, deep within the Arctic Circle, where polar night endures for weeks, a Sami shaman told me winter is not dark but full of colour. Standing beneath a star-lit sky striped with the colours of the aurora, it was easy to see her point. I watched the Sami gather hundreds of reindeer for the annual round-up, under moonlight so brightly reflected by the snow that there was no need for a torch.
In northern Finland, winter is all about reindeer for the community, but for thousands of children around the world, winter also means reindeer. In particular, one red-nosed reindeer. Santa lives in the Arctic Circle near Rovaniemi in Finland, surrounded by sparkling lights and tinsel-draped magic. I am at least three times the age of most of his visitors, but meeting Father Christmas was still a winter highlight that filled me with festive excitement.
If one Christmas is not enough, Russian Orthodox Christmas is celebrated on 7 January every year. St Petersburg, with golden domes and elaborate squares, is effortlessly seasonal. Wandering over its floodlit bridges across icy rivers, towards the promise of a warming aperitif, cannot be anything but achingly romantic.
I may be biased. I consider every fabulous backdrop to be infinitely improved by the frosty gilding of a winter coat. Soaking in the geothermally heated hot pools of Iceland is wonderful at any time of year, but how much more delicious for the soul it is to be sat in the warm waters surrounded by crystalline snowdrifts and flawlessly snow-smothered mountains.
If the cold and snow really doesn’t do anything but make you shiver at the thought, don’t worry, this benign season still has you covered. Winter might mean lower temperatures in Europe but it means sunny days in the Caribbean. Furthermore, only half the planet is ever subsumed by winter at any one time – the depths of winter in London is the height of summer in Sydney, Christchurch or Cape Town.
This year, as the days darken, the air cools and thoughts turn to the inevitable arrival of winter, remember the words of the Lord Keeper of the Cold: winter is not your enemy but your friend.