Winter is the fourth season in the temperate zones, it is the coldest and darkest time of the year. Depending on which hemisphere the winter is, we distinguish between the northern winter and the southern winter. The trees are now really bare, the ground is frozen and often covered with snow. In the depths of winter, the weather is just right for sledding, starting a snowball fight or building a snowman! What is typical for this season and what dates, cultural customs and festivals are associated with it? How does the animal and plant world prepare for the frosty months??
According to the calendar, the coldest season in the northern hemisphere begins on 21. or 22. December and ends on 21. or 22. March. Weather researchers assign the months December, January and February to winter. (Source: Wanderer / pixelio.de)
Winter, like the other three seasons, is also divided into three phases. Early winter begins at the beginning of December and lasts until the beginning of January. With the beginning of early winter also the onset of winter takes place at the same time. Now it can already snow and also frost is now the order of the day. The high winter lets the temperatures sink again strongly and at the beginning of the year it becomes really cold. Minus degrees are now no longer a rarity. This is followed by the so-called late winter, which prevails in mid-February. The temperatures rise gradually again and also snow falls in Germany – except the mountains – now more rarely.
Astrologically, winter begins with the winter solstice. This means that the sun will rise in the northern hemisphere on the 21st. or 22. December reaches the lowest point above the horizon. In the southern hemisphere, this day is 21. June. From this time on the nights become shorter again and the days longer. With the spring equinox on 21. or 22. March ends the winter on the northern hemisphere, on the southern hemisphere ends it on 22. or 23. September. The meteorologists, so one calls the weather researchers, divide the winter against it into full months and thus prevails for them in December, January and February on the northern hemisphere winter.
The winter months
At the winter solstice the day is shortest and the night is longest. Even today, ancient, pre-Christian customs are celebrated and the "Return of the sun and the light is celebrated. An example is the lighting of sun crosses (picture), which are rolled down from hills. (source: public domain)
December is the last month of the year. In the Roman calendar, December was still the tenth month of the year, which can be seen from its name. Because its name derives from the Latin word "decem", what ten means. In Germany it used to be called "Julmond" which is derived from a Germanic festival, the "Julfest", can be derived. It is the festival of the winter solstice. The month of Christ was also commonly used to refer to December, because December is the month when Christmas is celebrated.
The second month of winter is January, the first month of the Gregorian calendar. This month was named after the Roman god Janus, who is said to have two faces: One face looks at the old year and the other at the new one. In Germany, it used to be called ice month or snow month. The last month assigned to winter is February. It got its name from the Roman purification festival "Februa". February is a very special month, because every four years this month has one day more. Normally February is only 28 days long, but in leap year it is 29 days long.
Festivals and customs in winter
Winter is full of celebrations and holidays. Especially in December, one celebration follows another: we celebrate Advent every Sunday until Christmas Eve, on the 6th day of the month.12. St. Nicholas Day, on 25. and 26.12. Christmas and the 31st.12. New Year’s Eve. (Source: I-vista / pixelio.de)
In winter there are so many things to celebrate. December begins with the Advent and pre-Christmas season and St. Nicholas Day on 6. December. At the end of December we celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Almost everyone in the world knows the "Feast of Love" and await it with joy every year anew. During Advent, when it’s really cold and uncomfortable outside, things get even cozier at home: people go to the Christmas market, light candles, do handicrafts together and bake delicious cookies. Christmas is a very special holiday for many people, which is celebrated together with the family.
On the last day of the year, 31. December, you celebrate New Year’s Eve. Thus one says goodbye to the old year and welcomes the new one with a colorful firework display. On 1. January is then New Year and on this day people wish each other good luck for the future. Another holiday that takes place in January is Epiphany. On 6. January, the carol singers go from door to door in many places in Germany. They remember the three wise men from the east who followed the star to Bethlehem to Jesus’ manger. Today they collect money for poor children and they themselves usually get something to snack on. At the end of winter there is a very merry celebration, which is especially big in the Rhineland celebrations are held: Carnival, Mardi Gras or Shrovetide.
Tired and bad-tempered in winter?
Tired, listless or in a bad mood in winter – this is also due to the fact that the days are shorter and darker and the sun rarely appears. This has an effect on hormones and can affect moods. (Source: Jorma Bork / pixelio.de)
Although it is very nice to romp in the snow and drink warm cocoa or tea. And also the many holidays and celebrations let the winter become for many a wonderful season. But many people are often bad-tempered and sometimes sad in winter. This is also due to the fact that the sun does not appear in the sky as often as it does in summer or spring – and even in autumn there are considerably more sunny days. Many people complain in winter that they are often tired, don’t feel like doing anything or are simply gloomy. The sun is missing!
The pineal gland produces more of a hormone called melatonin in winter. This is responsible for the body to adjust to a lot of rest and slow down the metabolism. Therefore one sleeps in the winter also more. At the same time, the body produces less serotonin, which provides well-being, good mood and drive. Too low a level of serotonin in the body can lead to bad moods, listlessness, irritability and inner restlessness, and sometimes even trigger real mood lows.
But against this listlessness and bad mood you have to fight a little bit and also go for a walk or romp in the snow. Fresh air and exercise are good for the body, and you also need to pay attention to proper nutrition in winter. And not only to keep himself in a good mood, but also to avoid getting sick. With regular exercise in the fresh air and a healthy and balanced diet with sufficient vitamins and nutrients, the body is prepared for the winter.
What are actually the Rauhnachte?
Around the Rauhnachte, which are particularly long and dark, entwine many myths. Image: Fortune telling during the Rauhnachten in a Russian illustration from 1885. (source: public domain)
Already in Otfried Preublers "Krabat" the Rauhnachte are mentioned. But what exactly are these nights and what makes them so special?? The Rauhnachte begin on 25. December and end with 6. January. Since they begin shortly after the winter solstice, these twelve nights are particularly long and dark. The Rauhnachte are surrounded by many legends and also some superstition. According to a Germanic legend, Odin’s wild army travels through the air at this time of year, taking with it anyone it can get its hands on. According to another belief, Frau Berchta – better known as Frau Holle from the fairy tale – wanders the countryside with her children.
In addition, many farmers believed that the twelve days and nights would indicate the weather of the coming year. Thereby each day would stand for a month. And even today there are isolated farmers who write down the weather of these days to draw conclusions for the new year. There are other myths about the Rauhnachte, some of which have survived to this day. For example, you should not slam any doors during this time, otherwise you have to expect a lot of thunder and lightning in that year. Haircutting is also forbidden at this time, if you do not follow these rules, you suffer from a bad headache. And on New Year’s Eve, in the first half hour of the new year, one should close all doors and windows, except the back door, because through it the blessing enters the house.
Why do some trees stay green?
Conifers are green even in winter. When the ground is frozen, the tree cannot absorb water, but the firm epidermis of the needles, often covered with wax, prevents them from drying out. (Source: Dieter Schutz / pixelio.de)
Most trees lose their leaves in autumn in preparation for winter. In winter, the water in the ground is frozen, so the tree can’t absorb water. To protect itself from drying out, the tree sheds its leaves. But there are trees that are green even in winter, the conifers. Pines or firs, for example, belong to the coniferous trees.
The needles are basically nothing more than leaves. However, the individual needles can live up to ten years, and they have a very firm epidermis compared to leaves. Through this solid layer, the needles do not give off so much water vapor during "photosynthesis", with the help of which plants can convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. In addition, they are often covered with a layer of wax that protects them from the cold and drying out. When the ground is frozen in winter, the tree cannot absorb water, but the wax layer of the needles prevents them from drying out. So they remain green even in winter.
What do plants do in winter?
Crocuses are one of the first flowers to appear in new bloom in late winter and early spring. (Source: Grace Winter / pixelio.de)
What do flowers and other plants do in winter?? After all, they can’t just take their root and move it to a warmer place. In order to face the winter, plants have some clever abilities. There are plants that form a kind of antifreeze. This prevents them from freezing too quickly in winter. In Antarctica, for example, there are grasses that can survive even at subzero temperatures. This antifreeze can be for example some kind of sugar. The plants can produce it themselves and use it as they wish. But they need at least 24 hours to produce. In this way, they prevent the water in their cells from freezing.
Other flowers, such as tulips, go into hibernation literally burrows under the ground. Before winter they fade and everything above ground dies off. Only the tubers and bulbs in the ground survive, because they have accumulated enough energy in summer. When it slowly gets warmer again, the plants start to grow again and in the spring they shine in their full flower splendor.
Birds in winter
resident birds like tits or robins stay with us even in the cold season. (Source: Joachim Lodders/ pixelio.de)
Winter is the hardest season for many animals, because it is very difficult to find enough food. Birds in winter, which are not migratory birds have flown to the south, now have to search laboriously for food. The ground is frozen and maybe even covered with snow. insects rarely appear in winter and hardly anything grows on the bushes. Many people therefore hang so-called titmouse dumplings in their gardens or on their balconies or scatter grains in the bird feeder. Birds welcome food, but they are not really dependent on our help. But this way it is easier for them and we can also observe the birds from close range.
It is better to offer the birds additional food only when it is really really cold and frosty. When feeding, you should make sure that you also offer them the right food. Among birds there are grain eaters, such as finches or sparrows, which are very fond of eating sunflower seeds, for example. Soft food eaters, like robins, blackbirds or titmice, prefer fruit, raisins or ready-made titmouse dumplings that can be bought. There are also omnivores among the birds, such as the crow. Bread, however, is not suitable, because it swells up in the stomach and the birds can get sick.
How other animals spend the winter?
The hedgehog belongs to the hibernators. It eats a stockpile and lives on its reserves during the cold winter months. (Source: Gibe / Creative Commons)
Other animals in winter often have to be quite resourceful to protect themselves from the cold and face the darkest season of the year. While we can sit comfortably with a hot tea in front of the heater, outside it is cold and frosty. Many animals therefore put on a thick winter coat before the winter so that they do not freeze. So the fox, the hare or even the deer has a denser fur in the cold season. Since they go daily on food search, they have this also bitternotig.
Some animals, such as the hedgehog, now hibernate. Only in spring, when it gets warmer again, they let themselves be seen. Although hibernators wake up from time to time to lie down or to do their business, they do not need to eat anything, because they have already eaten enough fat. Animals that hibernate must not be disturbed. If they are awake too long in winter, they consume a lot of energy and since there is hardly any food for them, they cannot strengthen themselves and could not survive the winter.
Other animals only hibernate, such as squirrels. This means that they sleep most of the time, but when they are hungry, they wake up and eat some of the food that they have prepared beforehand. And again other animals fall into a winter rigidity. The body temperature of cold-blooded animals (for example fish, lizards or turtles) depends on the ambient temperature. When it gets really cold, the animals become rigid and fall into winter torpor. There are even animals that have a kind of antifreeze in their body so that they can survive the winter, namely insects. So that their blood does not freeze in the winter, they have this smart device.
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