I vividly recall that it once took me almost an hour to prepare my four children (all aged four and under at the time) in appropriate layers, boots, mittens and beanies with the intention of setting out for a midwinter walk through the bush near our home. I bundled our baby twins into suits and blankets and zipped them into their weatherproof pram capsules. We got as far as an icy puddle on the way to the mailbox, into which toddler Dash promptly stomped, slipped, and was immediately immersed in freezing slush. Needless to say, our winter walk came to a premature end.
Almost six years later, winter is quite possibly our favourite season. Certainly it is the children’s favourite season, for we live in one of the few areas of Australia in which snow is a feature of our experience of winter. Skiing is the pay-off for having to endure some of the coldest weather Australia has to offer. But unlike in the Northern Hemisphere, Australians do not have a culture steeped in the celebration of winter. Australians define themselves much more by our attachment to the sun, surf, and sand of our long summers. So when faced with a real winter, after years of living in the hot climates of the north, developing some seasonal rituals and practical solutions were the key not just to surviving, but to celebrating our mountain winters.
These are some of the ways we keep our home and ourselves warm and happy through the winter:
Warm bodies: Whilst the children tend to resist wearing too many layers of clothing, even in the coldest time of year, I insist that as long as they begin with a merino wool base layer, I am a little more flexible about what else they wear. At the beginning of every winter I make sure everyone in the family has at least one long-sleeve and several merino wool singlets. Merino wool is machine-washable, non-scratchy (great for fussy kids), warm and breathable. Icebreaker have top of the range, long-lasting and great-looking merino garments, such as this kids long sleeve hoodie, which keeps necks and heads warm too. Many other outdoor brands also make merino gear these days, but the quality of Icebreaker is unparalleled (worth it if you have multiple children to pass things down the line).
For younger children, these waterproof Australian-made over pants, known as Slicks, are an essential part of the daily winter wardrobe. Reinforced at the knees and bottom, they can be worn over normal clothing to keep children warm and dry (and save washing). They are especially wonderful for crawling toddlers and kids who like to get wet and dirty.
Warm feet: Around the house in the mornings and evenings, the children wear slipper socks (with grippy soles) in preference to ugg boots as they claim they ‘can’t run’ in uggies. As long as their feet are clad in something warm on those cold floors, I don’t mind. For wintry outdoor exploring, after going through various different types of gum boots and snow boots, we have now discovered the one winter boot which covers all types of conditions and terrains from snow to ice to puddle-stomping: Bogs Winter Boots. These boots are waterproof, insulated to -40 degrees, and have fantastic traction. They are a bit of an outlay initially, but instead of buying multiple boots for different activities, this is the only boot your kids will ever need. I even like them for summer forays through the long grass, as snake protection for little legs!
Warm Home: At home, we have incorporated some cherished rituals into our winter days. As well as adding extra blankets to the beds, and unpacking the coats and beanies, we unroll the rugs from storage for our floors. Last year, we salted and tanned the hide from one of our own galloway steers, which turned out spectacularly. Curling up on one of our fluffy cowhide or sheepskin rugs by the fire is one of the great pleasures of the season.
The early nightfall of the season means that we are all indoors earlier, and so dinner and baths are all finished much earlier than at other times of the year. Sometimes I found the children were already a little hungry again by bedtime, and so, after a suggestion from a friend, we began having ‘winter suppers’ . Winter supper is now much-loved in our family, where we gather in pyjamas on the sheepskin rug (also known as The Jack Frost rug) in front of the fire for hot chocolate (made with milk, honey and raw cocao powder), and winter gingerbread (or other suitable night time snack). The children take it in turns to light one of these beautiful pure beeswax candles, and we read a winter-themed book together before bed.
At first I thought I would never get used to the freezing winters here, and yet I must admit that these practises and rituals have won me over. And so, in spite of myself, like the children I too have come to love the rhythms and forms of the cold season, and am now able to truly celebrate winter.