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Why do we love the winter…

Winter arrives in The Netherlands every year.      not much any of us can do about it. As many of you might be aware of, some of the characteristics of winter are… how shall I put it? Less pleasant.

The days get shorter and shorter. Quite often one leaves his/ her home in the morning darkness to go to work, only to arrive back also in the dark. If it wasn’t for the blessed weekends I wouldn’t remember what my house looks like in anything other than the electric light. I purposely refrain from using the phrase- “day light”, because this could be tricky in the winter. Some weeks go by in which the sun or the blue sky don’t even manage to show their smiley faces. If this isn’t bad enough- it’s cold… very cold. Wearing all these layers every time you want to leave a warm shelter, and then peeling them off as you enter the next one and so on and on. Taking your wet shoes off, when entering someone’s house, only to step with your dry socks - your feet’s last bastion of warmth - in a puddle that was left there from someone else’s shoes – bah. Or waiting for the bus or the train dressed in all your warmest cloths, freezing, trying to expose as little flesh as possible – YEHY public transport! But it is definitely better than having to scratch the ice off your car in the morning - don’t get me started…

Well it probably sounds like I hate winter but actually as many other Dutch - I like it. Not because of the above, but in spite of it.
All through the long history of our people leaving in this cold part of the world,  generations of winter dwellers have developed many nice habits to help us cope with the cold. Winter, that is if you do it right, can actually be “GEZELLIG”.
Gezellig is probably the most important word in the Dutch vocabulary; loosely translated it means coziness and pleasantness. To a Dutch person Gezellig is the aim that justifies all the means. And there are not many more gezellig moments than sitting in a warm room, candles flickering, fire burning, soft music is playing, close people and a warm cup of Mulled wine or hot chocolate. While outside the wind is howling and best of all – snowflakes are falling.
These cozy moments make it all worthwhile.

And then there is Bok beer- this creamy sweet beer of Autumn and Winter, how can you not love winter when you have Bok beer? This winter nectar could not be enjoyed outside a wintery environment. And this goes also for other foods & beverages such as boerenkoolstamppot  (Kale with mashed potatoes), or Snert (thick… no! very thick- pea soup with chunks of smoked sausage). In my mind food is often the transporter of other memories and mentioning snert takes me straight away to a frozen lake and to the hundreds of people ice skating around.  Young and old, masters of the blade and first timers all frozen smiles on their faces enjoying another one of the winter’s gifts. Music comes out of plastic covered speakers and little 'koek en zopie' stands (that’s where I’m usually to be found) selling snert, and other winter treats.

Ice skating is a Dutch obsession and there is nothing like a good slide on some natural ice to make us winter happy.
This year we might actually get the “eleven cities race” elfstedentocht which will probably bring this country to a craze not seen even when we took part in the football world cup final this summer. It is an event with mythical proportions which takes place only when the conditions are right (last time was in 1997). It sees 20,000 people compete with each other along approximately 200 km’ (125 miles) of frozen waterways, in freezing temperatures and typically ferocious winds.
Or if the conditions are not right for skating there is always a visit to a magically lit village on a December weekend when all the locals gather for the Christmas market. Music again, winter foods, very gezellig… this year I have visited markets all around the country, from Maastricht and Valkenburg  (the underground market) in the South, through the acclaimed Christmas market in the Keukenhof and to some small villages we just happen to drive through in the right timing. Our guests loved all the markets, but I fell in love with the market in Bourtange. This small fortified village in the East of the province of Groningen, has managed to put together what is for me the ideal Christmas market. Not too crowded, lots to offer, a very gezellig atmosphere, lots of great food (check out the pictures of the warm-ham  stand in our FLICKR page) great lights, fires everywhere – it was just perfect.

So you see there are lots of reasons to love the winter. And we didn’t even mention all the great festivals this time of year – Sinterklaas and of course Christmas, which this year will probably be a white one!!!
Therefore, in the Dutch tradition of looking at the full half of the glass and making the best of what you get, let’s say it out loud – we love winter!!! 

Only this attitude can get us sanely through winter…
Especially now that it’s almost Christmas and then New Year's and in January we book our holiday for the Summer (so something to look forward to) and before you know it, it’s February and then you can already feel March coming and that’s already spring with its tulips and cows running around… we love the spring


Beauty and tranquility, with a small group and a great guide!

H. Deutekom
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