The five stages of winter: A Canadian saga

Here in Canada, we’ve got five stages of winter. Read on to find out more about how it all works in the Great White North!

Stage 1. Denial, otherwise known as November.

The first stage of Canadian winter is when we pretend it’s not happening. This involves continuing to engage in fall-type activities, but acting like it’s not actually as cold as it really is. We might wear a chunky sweater because fashion, but we’re gonna skip the tuque and mittens for now. (They’re so not cool, Mom.)

As for denial-stage activities, they include things such as taking the dog for long walks in frigid temperatures while pretending our fingers aren’t freezing; playing outdoor sports like soccer and street hockey as if it were still summertime (while secretly looking forward to a mug of hot chocolate once we get home); and taking the little kids to the park even though their noses are running from the cold wind.

People suffering from heavier versions of the denial stage have been known to eat ice cream on the porch, leave the windows open because they “like the fresh air,” and go for one last kayak outing even though they would probably get hypothermia if the kayak happened to flip. Er, I mean, if they chose to do a “wet exit.” Right.

Stage 2. Anger, aka December.

December is when the gross weather really starts to hit, and we’re pretty mad about it. Especially when we forgot to change over to winter tires and we have to drive home from a holiday party while dodging those gigantic snowflakes that look like pieces of shredded kleenex. 

We grumble while we use a hair dryer to stick sheets of plastic over drafty windows (why is the cord never long enough to reach the top??). We grouse while we dig the boots and coats out of the back of the closet (wasn’t someone supposed to vacuum in here??). We gripe when we almost slip and fall on the walkway (where’s the leftover salt from last year??). 

In short, we bond with each other by complaining loudly about how crappy the weather is. Besides, it’s a super stressful season, what with all the gift shopping and decorating and strategically managing family gatherings. 

But sometimes, in our secret heart of hearts, we might gaze out the window and admire the pretty snow as it comes down, all soft and romantic-looking as it sparkles in the pretty twinkling lights. Don’t tell, though. That would spoil the grumpy fun.

Stage 3. Bargaining, alternately called January.

Okay, fine. Fine! It can be winter, but only if we can find ways to get something out of it. 

We no longer have the holiday festivities to distract us—if anything we’re now cringing at our credit card bills. Next year, it’s handmade gifts only, we swear! So that leaves us with... winter sports.

January is the season of Getting Out and Having Fun in the Snow, Darnit. That means snowshoeing, cross-country skiing (or downhill if you’re fancy), ice skating on the public rink, tobogganing with the kids. Basically anything that makes us feel that combination of wind-whipped skin and warm, exercised muscles. We’ll sleep like a log after we get home, with those glassy eyes and chapped lips that are the sure marker of a successful day of Enjoying the Winter.

January drives a hard bargain. But if we play our cards right, it can still be a win-win.

Stage 4. Depression, code name for February.  

It’s dark. It’s miserable. Everything is either frozen or soggy or both. Our boots are salt-stained, our hats smell funny, and we haven’t seen the sun in weeks.

Winter depression is a real thing. February is a tough month for lots of folks. The trick to getting through it seems to be about light. For some of us, that means getting our hands on a SAD lamp and shining it on our skin for an hour a day to fool our bodies into believing we’re getting more daylight than we actually are. But it’s also about finding ways to add light into our lives so we can survive the darkness. 

February is a time when lots of Canadian cities have outdoor lights festivals. Just for example, there’s the huge installations at Montréal en Lumière, public art made out of neon tubing at the Toronto Light Festival, fireworks at the Wonderful Winter Weekend in Winnipeg, and light and projection shows at Flash in Moncton

Lots of places also have broader festivals at this time of year, such as Winnipeg’s Festival du Voyageur and Ottawa’s Winterlude (OMG ice sculptures!). Even Vancouver—which, let’s be real here, gets a pretty mild version of winter—has a hot chocolate festival, which basically means you wander around town and get hot chocolate in cafés. But, like, yum.

Hot chocolate crawls, light shows, or just battening down the hatches and praying for spring—listen, do what you gotta do to get through. It’s almost over!

Stage 5. Acceptance, i.e. March.

What’s that? A little whiff of spring underneath all that snow? A crocus poking its little green head out of the earth? A smidge more of that golden afternoon sunlight? March is a crapshoot—sometimes it just feels like February all over again, but usually we do begin to see signs that spring is around the corner. 

It’s awfully easy to accept winter when it’s almost over. But it still comes with sweet rewards, particularly if you live in Quebec, Ontario or New Brunswick, where there’s a rush to the sugar shack. As the sap rises, so does the mood... and the blood sugar levels. Mmm, maple syrup poured over fresh snow and rolled up on a tongue depressor. It does wonders to boost the spirits!

And that concludes our five stages of winter. Enjoy the remaining snow while it lasts, friends, cuz next thing you know, you’ll be complaining about how it’s too hot and muggy out.

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