Post-Christmas winter is bleak in every conceivable way. Where the pre-Christmas period is one of jollity and hope for snow, the white frozen stuff post-New Year’s Day comes as a warning. We are now entering the coldest, wettest and most miserable months of the year. When it does snow, we don’t want it. We do not want to get up for work, we feel bloated and possibly even stressed after Christmas. We go shopping because we have to and sales shoppers irritate us. Misery, misery, misery. Can we turn this on its head? Is there anything positive about the post-Christmas months?
With the tree sent for mulch, the decorations down and the Christmas lights packed away for another year, everything just looks grey and miserable. The sky seems permanently overcast and on the days that it is clear, the sun is low in the sky and headache-inducing though sunrises and sunsets can be a dazzling array of colours. It is dark most of the time though after a few weeks the evenings start to lighten up. I mentioned in the Christmas edition that I enjoy frosty mornings to go out for a walk or a run and this is no exception post-Christmas. You will see more runners out during the day as people start to work off the excesses of Christmas.
In terms of wildlife, you might notice that squirrels are at their busiest. Nuthatches, jays and coaltits are common. On clear and snow-less days, you might hear and see the familiar Barn Owl. Ducks mate in the winter so these should be more common around the waterways of the UK. Trees are completely bare of their leaves making them look dead and skeletal.
Early in the morning or late at night, we expect to see road gritters out most of the time.
With the Christmas spices gone, there is no distinctive smell of this time of the year but for the Brit, winter is the period of heavy foods. Pasties, pies, boiled veg. The smell of roasting beef is perhaps more common in January and February than any other time of the year.
It is the time of year for log fires for those houses that haven’t traded their fireplaces for central heating so woodsmoke is still common.
Wildlife-wise, winter is mating season for many native British owls and for foxes so the calls and shrieks of these creatures can be heard in the countryside. Previously mentioned, the quacking of ducks for their mating season. It is also the period of heavy rain, strong winds and if you live somewhere used to it, blizzards. Blizzards have their own distinctive sound, a kind of muted, whistling wind.
The sound of snow or slush beneath your feet is distinctive yet post-Christmas is perhaps a little less welcome than it might have been in November or December.
As with any season, if you are writing a story set in the past you have to pay particular attention to the sort of foods that will be available regionally and seasonally. We need more calories at this time of year to keep our body temperature up and despite promising ourselves that we will reduce our intake of food post-Christmas, it is a period of stodgy food – pies, pasties, roast dinners etc. My favourite winter dish is steak and ale pie. You might find this hunting season chart useful to plan the winter diet for your characters or even for yourself!
Everything is cold and dead. Car door handles are frozen, windscreens are covered in a dense frost that will not come off easily. We have to take our time getting to work in case of black ice. Your car might slide a little on the roads. Rain is stinging, it moves sideways in the wind and it is not pleasant to be out in.
The sort of clothes we wear at this time of year are definitely practical rather than stylish. Woolly hats, scarves, boots, thick socks, jeans or thick trousers, jumpers and in the colder climates of Europe, multiple layers of vests, undershirts, sweaters and coats.
I suffer from chapped lips and dry hands at this time of year and use lip balm and hand cream to stop them getting chapped and too painful. Think also about the sort of effects the weather conditions will have upon our skin and our bodies in general.
So, that is my summary for winter. What does the post-Christmas winter period mean for you?