Cultural letter #9 Winter Wonderland


Dear friends,

I thought I'd take a few minutes to clue you in on winter here and an experience or two.

(These observations are taken from my direct experiences/conversations with people.)

Winter weather:  Usually there are one or two weeks where the temperatures get quite cold. Most of the rest of the winter it hovers around freezing. The end result is that often in January it looks like "spring break up" in Alaska.  We had snow this year on Dec. 24, and again on the 25th. It has since melted and is today quite a few degrees above freezing.  In fact, when my dad called from central FL the other day, it had been colder there that night than it was here.  Last winter we had a nice snow or two--6 inches, I think, we got once.  So far this winter has been relatively mild.  Some winters there is more snow, some less. Since we've been here, the average has been one big snow--enough to really go sledding in, make a snow fort, etc.--in the entire winter.  It seems that the usual snowfall is made up of tiny little flakes with the end result being about a centimeter or two on the ground. 

On Thursday late afternoon, Jeremiah and I were slipping and sliding our way to school in the dark to pick up Lydia who gets out at 4:30 on Thursday afternoons. I was concentrating pretty hard to stay upright as I had fallen once. The ice was slippery and there were mud puddles --making for potential messy spills.  (Mike had the van at G.K.)  I allowed us 30 minutes to get there even though it normally is about a 20 minute walk.  As we were walking I noticed something in a mud puddle--I was concentrating so hard on each step, I almost missed it--it was a bicycle, with a man struggling to get the bike upright-the man was partly down in the water also.  (There aren't many street lights on this dirt road.)  Well, Jeremiah and I helped him get the bike upright after we helped him over to the chain link fence nearby to grab onto.  I explained to Jeremiah that he was pretty drunk--then I put the bike up next to the fence where the man who could hold it.  (It was too slippery to be riding a bike if you were sober!)  He kept saying thank you, thank you.  We started to continue on our way, but I felt in my coat pocket for a tract that I had in there. I tried to give it to the man but he just stood there looking at me uncomprehendingly--so I stuck it in his bag he had hanging over the front handlebars of his bike.  Then, we went on our way.  We arrived at school without breaking anything--without being late. 

New Year's Eve:  They let off a lot of fireworks, often starting about 6 pm.  Fireworks are legal to buy and use here. This year, with some new neighbors who apparently like to do this, we had a 20 minute show almost in our front yard.  (The only problem was, we were in bed!) :)  A year ago we had only about 3 minutes' worth at midnight.  We found quite a bit of residue of fireworks in our yard on New Year's Day.  No store that I saw was open on New Year's Day. I tried to go to the local-little-store-that-is-always open--even-on-Christmas--to get something and it wasn't open, though I saw two people try the doors to the store in the less than one minute that I was in their parking lot.  It was very quiet everywhere.  Children went back to school on January 2. However, Lydia only had 8 in her normal 25-children kindergarten class that day.

Christmas Decorations:  For the average American, the first of January brings the end of the decorations and official end of the Christmas season. However, here, many people keep their trees up til some time in February.  There is another holiday around Feb. 5 which signals the end of the season to many people. One person told me if the needles will stay on, they may even leave their tree up until March.  The normal time for putting it up is Dec. 24 where it is included with their Christmas Eve/Day festivities. I think that many people put them up on Saturday the 23rd this year since the 24th was a Sunday.  Yesterday or today was "Three Kings Day" and another holiday, though not officially one--another friend told me that this signals the end of the tree for them.  (This information was all taken from Catholic neighbors/friends.)

Winter holiday:  Each year the children/young people get out of school for 2 weeks to give them a chance to take a winter holiday.  As I understand it, if the parents have school age children, their boss is supposed to/try to/ give them off during these two weeks also.  (I can understand how a "winter break" is much more practical for a holiday than a "spring break" as the weather is usually a bit more predictable during late Jan/early Feb. than it is in March/April.) During this time many people will go skiing down in the southern part of Poland where there are some mountains.  (It seems strange to have another break so soon after Christmas, as there are only 3 weeks between the two "breaks".)

Darkness:  At the height of winter, it gets dark around 3:30 and doesn't get light in the morning til about 7:30 am.   The day lengths change rapidly, though--several minutes a day as we work ourselves into spring.  Most  winter days are rather grey and ugly, with a few, bright, beautiful days sprinkled in.  It is law that everyone use their headlights all the time from Nov. 1 through March 1. 

That's all for now.  Have a great winter day!

In Warsaw,
Becky Petersen