It’s January, our holiday decorations are down and the cold, gray, dark winter is ahead. It’s easy to love December, with the warmth and excitement of the holiday, but when its over…then what? I know some people dread this time of year, but I don’t mind it so much anymore. I’ve adopted a handful of hacks to beat the winter blues that I want to share with you today. Poland is a pretty cozy place, and living here has inspired me to embrace winter even more. Instead of being cold these next few months, try being cozy! Like many, many things, surviving winter is all about mindset. You can fight the cold, dark and snow. Or, you can adopt these winter survival hacks and make it work for you!
I feel like the Danish cultural intangible “hygge” is trendy. It can be applied year-round. But, hygge is especially helpful for making January through March a nice place to be. Hygge is the idea of creating an atmosphere of warmth, and well-being, by enjoying simple things with good people. Kind of like the cozy, warm, fuzzy feelings that are created around the Christmas season. The Danish get credit for hygge, but there are many places besides Denmark where coziness seeps into everyday life. If you ask me, Central Europe doesn’t get enough credit for being cozy. Poland is the coziest place I’ve ever spent a winter! Here is a list of my favorite ways to keep warm inside and out, like the Polish do. Read on for my tips for staying cozy, and have the best winter ever!
Light a fire and let its glow chase the winter blues away
Start a fire. Very few things are more welcoming than the soft, warm glow of a burning flame. A fire is a sure-(fire, ha) way to chase away the cold and gray. If you don’t have a fireplace, that’s ok. Simply lighting a candle or two adds coziness to any room. Clearly this is no novel idea. Everyone knows sitting in next to a warm hearth is the world’s coziest activity. Yet, I feel fire is underutilized in the United States for its cozy factor (outside of the mountains). Walk down a street in Poland and you’ll likely smell a wood burning fire heating someone’s home. Smoke drifts lazily out of chimneys, and over houses from a backyard bonfire. If you pass by a park, chances are, someone has started a fire in a pit, or a grill, and friends and family are gathering around. My husband lights a fire in our fireplace here most mornings and evenings, and besides its inviting warmth that reminds me to simply stop and enjoy, it makes our time together doing everyday things feel special. It is something I want to always remember about living in Poland and plan to take with me when I go. Light a fire and enjoy its cozy, warm glow.
Drink warm beverages and cozy up from the inside out
Drink warm beverages. Before Covid cancelled plans, we were running with a local 5k club on Saturday mornings. We only went a few times through January and February, before it was shut down in March. But, one of my favorite things about it was that afterward, instead of gathering around the water cooler full of ice water, or being handed a bottle of water, we would gather around the water cooler full of tea. I felt like the hot tea invited me to stay and talk in the cold outdoors. Holding the warm cup in my hands, waiting for it to cool enough to drink, and then enjoying feeling it warm me up as my body cooled down after the run, gave us time to work through the language barrier and make connections with our fellow runners. Tea, or “herbata” is enjoyed throughout Poland. Our power was unexpectedly out for a few days not long after we moved in, and our neighbor insisted we come and use her kitchen to make tea. Because, as she stated, “it is necessary”. Pause what you’re doing, and enjoy a cup of tea this afternoon.
Tea is good. . . but hot wine is better
I love tea, but if you’re looking for something to reeeally warm you up, you need to get yourself some hot wine. Don’t get me wrong, I love a pumpkin spice latte in September like the rest of them. But in Europe, when September hits, hot wine season begins and hot wine beats pumpkin spice in an arm wrestling competition, any day. Swing by Trader Joe’s and pick up a bottle of gluhwein, or look up a recipe for mulled spiced wine, and sip it by your fire. Tell me you aren’t feeling cozy by now.
Head Outdoors! Beat the blues by embracing the cold
Go outside. I love the saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”. Nothing makes me appreciate the great indoors, more than bundling up, going out in to the great outdoors, and then coming back in to my warm house. If you feel cabin fever setting in, tell cabin fever to get lost and just go outside! One of my favorite things about Poland are the people of all ages out simply strolling in the woods in all seasons. Kids will be bundled up in their snowsuits, walking with their parents. Old ladies in hats and Nordic walking poles will be shuffling along in pairs. Now, the people I see out swimming in the lake right now are just nuts. But I bet they feel really, really good coming inside after that frigid plunge. Go out, come back in, and up the cozy factor in your home.
One of my other favorite cozy things here are the fleece blankets and lambskin rugs restaurants have draped over outdoor seating areas, for you to keep toasty while you drink and dine in the fresh air. We’ve adopted being cozy outdoors at home, and like to sit outside on our patio, bundled up with all the layers (and a blanket for me) in the afternoon on weekends, throughout most of the year, reading, or listening to a recorded book, drinking tea or hot wine (or scotch, which is toasty in an entirely different way). Gather some soft, warm blankets, throw them over your porch furniture, and create your own cozily inviting outdoor sitting room for cooler temps!
Name a cozier food than soup… Polish food is comfort food, and soup is a huge part of Polish cuisine. I’ve never known a place to love soup so much. Miles eats soup at preschool, every day at 2pm. I usually make soup at home once a week, or so, from fall through spring. Some favorite Polish soups are various types of mushroom, Rosol (chicken noodle), white and red barczsz, pickle soup and Zurek sour rye soup. You could look up recipes for any of these or, whip up a batch of your family’s favorite kind of soup. Enjoy a bowl of steaming hot soup after coming indoors a la step three above, or at 2pm like the preschool children of Poland.
Let the holidays lights twinkle on
Leave your Christmas lights up. I know I said our Christmas decorations are down, but I lied. We left our lights up outside. All our neighbors are doing it so we feel like we fit in. That Taylor Swift song with the line that says “We can leave the Christmas lights up ‘til January” bothers me anyway. I mean, January is only a week after Christmas and I feel like most people in the USA let theirs live until New Years. It just seems like if they really wanted to “make the rules” they’d do like they do in Poland, where Christmas lights stay up until February. And I like it. The days are short, and when its dark outside it is nice to see something, anything, out of our window. You’d much rather see the friendly, festive twinkle of neighborhood lights, than blackness. Right? The warm glow of holiday lights adds a welcome cozy factor to our winter home and neighborhood. You might stand out in a crowd for this one, but if you haven’t yet taken down your lights, let them live a little longer to add coziness to your home and ‘hood.
Wear Warm Things Like It's Going Out of Style
Wear house shoes and get a sleeping bag coat. There’s just no sense being cold. In Poland you won’t find bags of ice for sale in coolers outside at gas stations. Your babysitter may judge your parenting if you have a fan in your kid’s room for white noise. Yet some of them go swimming in lakes in December. It makes no sense to me, but they say “it is good for immunity”. I never learned that one in nursing school. Who knows. Anyway, as a culture, Polish people are cold-averse. It is customary for you to remove your shoes upon entering a home in Poland. People will sometimes bring “house shoes” to wear indoors and this is similar to the habit I picked up when we lived in freezing cold, snowy, northern New York, of bringing a pair of slippers to wear when visiting with family or friends in their homes. I just really like having warm feet. It keeps the rest of me toasty. If I’m home, or in your home, I’m wearing slippers. Sometimes its mid-July before I retire them for the summer. Speaking of being toasty, it is not uncommon here to see people wearing full length down coats as soon as the temperature dips down around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. I admit, whereas before, I would have reserved my “sleeping bag coat” for the sub-freezing Chicago winter days, when I walked everywhere, rode the L, and was always subject to the windy city elements. Now, I bust my long down jacket out, even if it’s just a little bit dreary and I’m driving with my seat warmer on, on the way to school drop off. It’s not that I’m a big sissy about the cold, it’s just so much more pleasant being warm from door to door. There’s no such thing as bad weather.
Add any, or all of these simple traditions to your winter days, and let coziness beat your winter blues away! How do you like to beat the winter blues? Let me know in the comments! It makes me so happy to connect with you. The more we explore together, the more we learn about the world. The more we learn, the better we can make it for each other For cold weather exploring inspo check out the Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa! For snowy mountain adventures, Snowbombing! Crystal Mountain, WA or, Whistler! For more Poland, click the links for Warsaw, Wroclaw, or Gdansk. See ya out there.