June 21, 2024 / Karina Kreminski

The Longest Night in the South: Winter is a Time for Enchantment

"I have always loved winter. Maybe it’s because of the fairy tales I read as a child. Most of them seemed to be set in snowy, enchanted forests. Magic happened whenever ice, the cold, and snowflakes were involved. I still think winter is a time for enchantment."

"I have always loved winter. Maybe it’s because of the fairy tales I read as a child. Most of them seemed to be set in snowy, enchanted forests. Magic happened whenever ice, the cold, and snowflakes were involved. I still think winter is a time for enchantment."

*Editorial Note: Warm greetings from my home in South Africa, where alongside 1.1 billion Southern Hemisphere dwellers, winter is here! Our winter solstice was yesterday, June 20th, and we now begin the hope-filled increase of daylight all the way until just before Christmas. In this light, Karina Kreminski, who lives in Sydney, Australia, offers a reflection on how the dark season of winter forms us towards maturity in Christ. Enjoy the formational wisdom found in Karina’s piece, even if you are reading this while sweating in the heat of the Northern Hemisphere summer. Your winter is coming 🙂 ~CK


I have always loved winter. I still think winter is a time for enchantment.

Maybe it’s because of the fairy tales I read as a child. Most of them seemed to be set in snowy, enchanted forests. Magic happened whenever ice, the cold, and snowflakes were involved.

Charles Taylor famously wrote about disenchantment in his classic work A Secular Age. Taylor differentiates between the “buffered self” of modern times in comparison to the “porous self” of the medieval age. The medieval period is sometimes considered “enchanted,” as people were more open to the spiritual world, and there was easy movement between the earthly and spiritual. People allowed themselves to be impacted by spiritual things. In modern “disenchanted” times, this movement and impact is more difficult as people increasingly do not live with a worldview that belief in God or spiritual things is the norm, or indeed even desirable. This is the world we live in now and it is in the atmosphere we breathe.

However, people are still searching for enchantment. Mark Vernon, in his book Spiritual Intelligence in Seven Steps,prefers to use the term homo spiritualis to refer to humanity, highlighting the longing we have to experience awe and wonder in our spirituality. We see this all over popular culture where there is a seemingly endless appetite for sci-fi and fantasy in books, movies, and gaming spaces. It seems as though enchantment is hard-wired into us. We search out meaning, depth, and even magical things in our world, having an inkling that there is more out there.

How can winter help us to practice re-enchantment to the world around us?

Ecclesiastes 3 declares that there is a season for everything under the sun. Seasons come and go, and the cycle of nature turns predictably. I believe that each season can speak to us in different ways.

Enchantment is hard-wired into us. We search out meaning, depth, and even magical things in our world, having an inkling that there is more out there. Winter is a season for pursuing this enchantment. Share on X

Winter, as I have said, is a time for enchantment.

How is this so? Five observations come to mind:

Firstly, winter helps us to pay attention to nature. Jesus would often draw out wisdom from his observations of nature. Being steeped in the Jewish scriptures, where we can see this attention to nature in Ecclesiastes and Job for instance, Jesus would often point to the world around him. “Look at the birds of the air” (Matthew 6:26), he said. “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed” (Mark 4:3); “Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit” (Mark 11:13); and “A man planted a vineyard” (Mark 12:1) are but three examples of the natural world Jesus uses in the gospel of Mark alone to teach his disciples. This reliance on natural imagery and metaphor was all around Jesus, although it might have been easier to understand in the agrarian culture of the Ancient Near East. It is more difficult for us today, when we are so disconnected from the food that is placed on our table and how it traveled to us. However, we can still pay attention if we have the eyes to see.

Secondly, winter is a time when nature is going through a time of death and transformation. We can observe this and perhaps turn our attention to more challenging areas of life that we tend to avoid reflection on, such as the aging process and the reality of death in our lives. In winter, nature looks dead; however, it is simply being prepared for rebirth. Leaves are dried up and produce is less bountiful, but it is a time to pickle and preserve rather than to taste fresh and recently blossomed fare. What a beautiful symbol of a core Christian belief – death and resurrection is wired into the seasonal rhythm of the universe itself!

In winter, nature looks dead; however, it is simply being prepared for rebirth. What a beautiful symbol of a core Christian belief – death and resurrection is wired into the seasonal rhythm of the universe itself! Share on X

Thirdly, in winter we conserve our energy in rest. We move slowly and retreat deeply inward. Often, winter makes us want to stay home, a cup of hot drink in our hands by a warm fire if we are lucky enough to have a heated home. We are less likely to want to exercise; we naturally sleep more. Sometimes in the winter there is more sickness and so we can be drawn into a type of forced bodily retreat – our bodies telling us we must rest. Winter is an invitation to look after our bodies, which need rest and recovery as much as they need activity.

Fourthly, winter is a time to pay attention to our inner self, by taking time to contemplate our connection with God, one another, and our own soul. Jesus clearly spent time in retreat (Matthew 4:1-11) in order to be nourished spiritually for his mission. Winter is a call for that inward retreat. If we are not a naturally contemplative type, winter still contains an opportunity to practice what we are unfamiliar and uncomfortable with.

Fifthly, winter is an annual season of preparation for the darker times in our lives. There are more dark days in winter, building to the winter solstice as the shortest day of the year. There is no escaping the reality that our world is filled with innumerable things that cause suffering and pain in our lives. As Christians, we are not protected from this. We experience the dark night of the soul when God seems to have abandoned us, just like Jesus did on the cross. With Christ, we cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). And sometimes, we wait for a very long time before we get any answer. Honestly, sometimes there is no answer.

We can be drawn into a type of forced bodily retreat – our bodies telling us we must rest. Winter is an invitation to look after our bodies, which need rest and recovery as much as they need activity. Share on X

But once again, we take heart from nature in winter.

Some flowers only bloom in the darkness of winter. A friend recently sent me a photo of a flower that belongs to her. The flower’s name is Saussurea Obvallata. This flower has medicinal usages. But the magical thing? It only blooms at night, once a year, in deep winter. Here’s the picture my friend sent me of her magical flower in bloom for one night only:

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What does my friend’s magical flower, blooming in winter’s darkness, teach us? Sometimes, it is only the darkness that brings out the light and beauty within us. This is in no way to justify or glorify suffering or pain, but is simply a statement of the reality of our world. Winter seasons in our lives can be incredibly painful and seem even useless. But there is the hope as with this flower that the dark night can draw out beauty one day. We may only catch a glimmer of this wonder, but remember:

Winter is a time for enchantment.

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Winter is a time to pay attention to our inner self, by taking time to contemplate our connection with God, one another, and our own soul. Jesus clearly spent time in retreat in order to be nourished spiritually for his mission. Share on X

Winter is a season to engage with rather than run from. I believe our society longs for more rituals. Since we live in disenchanted times, there is a vacuum of belief all around us, but people still long for meaning, awe, and wonder. Why not take the opportunity this winter to establish some rituals where all people can engage and connect with God?

This past year, we held a winter solstice gathering in our home. It was a way for people from all faiths or no faith to gather together, connect with one another, and take a moment to be grateful. We shared soup and mulled wine in our warm home and then dialogued together about these questions:

  1. What do you love about winter?
  2. In winter we are reminded of the cycle of nature. Share with us about your connection to nature.
  3. When have you experienced the light this week? What about the dark?
  4. Winter is a time of slowing down, conservation of energy, and turning inwards. What helps you slow down in our busy world?
  5. Winter is a season to be grateful. What are you grateful for?

A Winter Blessing

Find wonder and beauty in this season.

Pay attention to what nature is telling you in these cold days.

The cool wind and the dried up leaves call us to travel slow, to conserve our life force.

Go inwards and deep in this season of darkness, cloudy skies, and bright winter-sun days.

Take time to be grateful for your warm home, especially if you have one.

Know that in nature many flowers only bloom in the dark –

And then notice, there are things in our spiritual lives that only bloom in the dark as well.

Go inwards and deep with God.

Rest and restore your body, readying it for the summer days that will surely come again.

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Sometimes, it is only the darkness that brings out the light and beauty within us. This is in no way to justify or glorify suffering or pain, but is simply a statement of the reality of our world. Share on X


*Editorial Note 2: Catherine McNeil wrote about the joys of summer last July in her piece The Spiritual Practice of Summer.Kris Beckert reflected on God finding us in nature as a place of encounter and an environment of healing. I riffed on learnings from time spent in my summer garden attending to God’s presence, and the miracle of encouraging growth in nature. Juliet Liu framed summer as a season for deep Sabbatical rest, when a day off is no longer enough. There’s plenty of writing on summer in our archives – you simply need to explore a bit! ~CK