Reflecting on winter

The tradition of ceasefires at Christmas is not new. In his new book, Adam Gopnik writes about the Christmas truce of 1914

Because the Philippines has been badly hit by a typhoon, Maoist Communist Party rebels, who have battled the government for 40 years, have declared a six-day Christmas truce. They say they have put down arms in order to help those affected by flooding.

The tradition of ceasefires at Christmas is not new. In his new book, Winter: A Window on Five Seasons, best-selling author Adam Gopnik writes about the most famous ceasefire: the Christmas truce of 1914. For a week leading up to the holiday, German and British soldiers sang Christmas carols, shouted greetings across the trenches and even crossed into no man’s land to give gifts to their enemies.

Gopnik writes about this and all sorts of other winter cultural customs, traditions and trivia in Winter, a collection of five essays. He regales the reader with anecdotes, observations and historical snippets about the season Canadians either love or hate, but all have to endure.

Winter was originally written for this year’s Massey Lecture series. The Massey lectures, given yearly by a noted scholar, cover a variety of cultural, political or philosophical topics. The talks are broadcast and published as a book.

Winter opens with a young Gopnik looking out the window at a brewing Montreal storm. Safe and warm behind the glass, he realizes that because of comforts such as central heating, our relationship to winter has profoundly changed. No longer the threat it was in the past, we are free to romanticize winter and even enjoy it.

A second essay, Radical Winter, explores the mad quest for the Northwest Passage and polar exploration in the 1800s. Recuperative Winter discusses Christmas and winter traditions.

Looking to cover winter from all angles, Gopnik’s fourth essay is about recreational winter. He is a wealth of tidbits about the history of ice skating and the beginnings of hockey in Montreal. He admits this chapter is mostly a chance to talk in length about the sport. If you’re a Habs fan, there is lots to love.

The final essay is entitled Remembering Winter. He argues that with heated cars, underground walkways and shopping malls, we are losing our connection to winter. While I would challenge his argument, the essay is a good reminder to go outside and experience this wonderful season. Happy holidays!

Heather Allen is a writer and reader living in Penticton.


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