The most wonderful thing about winter is that it’s not summer.
Even the briskest single-digit day with high wind chill beats a 90-degree degree day with sponge-like humidity. Of course, we wouldn’t be saying that if the temperature dropped to 135.8 degrees, the lowest recorded temperature, which was logged in Antarctica in August, 2010. And the winter that’s come in Game of Thrones promises some very scary things. But winter can be wonderful, so chill out and read.
- Snow-Snowflakes, snowballs, snow forts. Nothing like a winter school closing and a good old-fashioned snowball fight. Let’s not forget that snow can be deadly too. The Great Blizzard of 1888 dumped 22 inches in New York City, 48 inches in Albany, and 45 inches in New Haven. High winds piled drifts of 30-40 feet over the tops of homes. It caused the deaths of 400 people. And then there are avalanches, see e.g. Italy.
- Hot chocolate-The Olmec civilization in Mexico was the first to mix chocolate with water for a chocolate beverage. The drink was cold and unsweetened. The Spanish conquerors introduced the drink to Europe and started serving it hot and with sugar. After the beverage reached England, the British added milk, and chocolate houses became a rage. Also, technically what you’re imbibing is hot cocoa. Cocoa is cacao with the fat stripped away.
- Ice Sculptures-Ok, when we hear the phrase ice sculptures, we tend to think of tacky ice swans melting on equally tacky buffets. But ice sculpture has turned into an art form with yearly competitions in Russia, China, France, Canada, and Norway. A world ice art championship is held yearly in Fairbanks, Alaska. And for something slightly different, check out the International Snow Sculpture Championships in Breckenridge, Colorado.
- Ice Hotels-Not enough to view ice sculptures? How about living in one. Igloos, snow villages, snow castles, and ice hotels exist everywhere from Finland to Canada. If you only want a sip of residential cold, try the Minus5 Ice Bar in New York City.
- Flexible Flyers–The famed wooden sleds were first manufactured in New Jersey in 1889. They’re now made in China. Oddly enough, sleds were first used in ancient Egypt to haul stones for the pyramids.
- Dog-sledding-Before there was a lyrical one-horse open sleigh, there was dog sledding. Dog-sledding developed among native peoples in northern Canada. Colonists picked up the idea. The French army used dog sleds to haul supplies during the French and Indian War. The idea spread to Europe, and polar explorers relied upon dog sleds on their journeys. (British explorers from Shackleton to Scott famously resisted and insisted upon man-hauling their sleds). The first formal dog- sled race occurred in Nome, Alaska in 1850. Most famous husky: Balto, who led the final leg of a run to bring diphtheria anti-toxin from Anchorage to Nome. Dogs still run the annual Idihtarod race from Settler’s Bay to Nome. Fastest time: 8 days, 11 hours. Snowmobiles now outdo canines. While there were earlier models, Canadian Joseph-Armand Bombardier is credited with the invention of the first modern snowmobile suitable for both wet and dry snow in 1935.
- Skates, Skis, and Snowshoeing- Our remote ancestors found creative ways to move around in snow and ice. The oldest pair of skates was found at the bottom of a Swiss lake and date back to 3000 B.C.E. The runners were made from animal leg bones attached by leather straps. Around the 14th century, the Dutch developed a skate using an iron runner attached to a wooden platform with leather straps. Poles were needed to push off, much like skis. About 1500, the Dutch added narrow metal blades, making poles unnecessary. Rock paintings and skis found in bogs show that hunters and trappers used skis for transportation at least 7,000 years ago. The skis were long pieces of wood that were strapped to the feet.The traditional webbed snowshoe was developed by Native Americans for hunting and travel.
- Best Winter Song-Winter Wonderland. Written by Felix Bernard and Richard Smith in 1934, it’s been recorded by 200 different artists. Here’s Johnny Mathis singing Winter Wonderland: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crXJ81GjCWY
- Snow Globes-The first snow globes appeared at the Paris Universal Exposition in 1878 and displayed a little man holding an umbrella. They reappeared at the Exposition in 1889 featuring a miniature Eiffel tower. At the time, each snow globe was individually hand-crafted, making them extremely expensive. Snow globes began being mass-produced in America when a Pittsburgh inventor started assembling them underwater. After snow globes appeared in the films Kitty Foyle and Citizen Kane, their popularity soared. The domes are now commonly made with plastic instead of glass, the liquid is typically water mixed with antifreeze, and the snow is plastic filler, a change from the ground rice, bone, and marble used in earlier incarnations. Largest snow globe collection: 4,059 and counting.
- Great Winter Idioms-Break the ice, tip of the iceberg, snowball effect, snowball’s chance in hell, on thin ice, cold feet, when hell freezes over.