January 27, 2021

Sleep on this idea…

Guest post by Chaplain Mike. Yawn…

We don’t have too many big snow storms where I live, in central Indiana. We are usually on the line between rain and snow, and therefore happen to miss both the drastic wind-chills and ginormous snowpiles of our northern neighbors and the early spring warmth and colors of those just to our south. We are ice and slush. Winters tend to be all gray and brown, and they are just long enough to give you cabin fever, just frigid enough to be miserable, just warm enough to make those of us who at other times in our lives dwelt in true north country miss a real blizzard.

However, we’re having a decent storm today, and I stayed home to work, glad I didn’t have to get my windshield squenched by one of our Hoos’yer good ol’ boys who relish the opportunity to show off their 4-wheel drive trucks in a pathetic attempt to scare their timid lower midwestern neighbors into a state of panic. This is a day when many middle fingers will be exposed to the elements.

Today’s weather got me to thinking about an article I read in the New York Times by Graham Robb a couple of years ago, about the way things used to be back in the old countries of Europe, when winter was truly dangerous and difficult.

Apparently, our European ancestors were much smarter than we are. They took the winter off.

No, really. For many of them, in winter, every day was a snow day. In order to conserve their stores of food and supplies, their energy, and their sanity, most of them simply went to bed and didn’t really awaken until spring.

Robb cites a British Medical Journal report in 1900 about peasants in northwestern Russia who:

…adopt the economical expedient” of spending one-half of the year in sleep: “At the first fall of snow the whole family gathers round the stove, lies down, ceases to wrestle with the problems of human existence, and quietly goes to sleep. Once a day every one wakes up to eat a piece of hard bread. … The members of the family take it in turn to watch and keep the fire alight. After six months of this reposeful existence the family wakes up, shakes itself and goes out to see if the grass is growing.”

It seems that some folks in France in particular embraced this way of life. A French civil servant who investigated the region’s economic activity in 1844 found that he was almost the only living presence in the landscape: “These vigorous men will now spend their days in bed, packing their bodies tightly together in order to stay warm and to eat less food. They weaken themselves deliberately.”

In the Alps, they had a saying, “Seven months of winter, five months of hell.” The hell-months were the working months! Winter was what they looked forward to! Winter meant rest, inactivity, a state near to hibernation for many folks.

And if someone died, they just packed him or her in a cold place and waited until spring to have the funeral. Even the deceased took the winter off.

I was born in the wrong century, I guess.

I say, let’s bring this back. It’s time to fight for our right to hibernate during the winter! What do you think? Anyone else feel as strongly about this as I do?

I propose the complete cessation of work from, say at least November 1 to March 1 here in the Midwest and similar climes. During those long, cold, dark months, it will simply be “ma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap, all settled down for a long winter’s nap.”

Just think of the energy savings! Imagine how much longer our automobiles will last if we do not expose them to the elements and all that road salt. The money we’ll save! Forget buying those bulky winter clothes and all the paraphernalia we use to fight the weather and the mess. And what about the health benefits, the boon to our peace of mind and body? Think how productive we will be the rest of the year, having enjoyed such a profound rest.

Yep, there’s an idea.


I’ll work on it in June. See you then.


  1. Ah…so they were the original couch potatoes! I wonder how many of us could stand to take the long winter’s nap if it meant no blogging for 4 months.

  2. I’m right there with you, Chaplain Mike. Every winter I can be heard saying (multiple times) that I just. want. to. hibernate. Wake me up in time for Easter!

  3. I’m thinking if we combine annual hibernation with the afternoon nap (i.e. siesta), we will have the most excellent arrangement possible. May as well go all-out, right?

  4. That is so funny, I say that too. In fact, when I get home, I often just want to cuddle on the couch with an afghan. I really have to drink a strong cup of coffee, to get me moving again.

  5. Uh…… You mean give up ice fishing, snowmobiling, sking, dog sledding and all that other cool stuff????????????

  6. Mike: I like the idea. The only thing that nags in the back of my mind at the veracity of the accounts is that peasants who are not employed by someone, and thus unable to hibernate, must by necessity be farmers, and farm animals don’t hibernate. The feeding, watering, milking, and mucking out would take a few hours a day at the very least. What do you think?

    • Apparently, in some instances, Rover and Bessie snuggled up with the family too. Lower metabolism for all creatures! The peaceable kingdom!

    • Hmm, not as long as you think. (Yes, I have mucked out cow dung.) You are thinking of our modern highly bred cows. The reason to get a cow pregnant is to make sure of milk production. During winter with the cows back then, no calf, no milk. The metabolism of lots of those farm animals back then would have also slowed down. So, it would not have been a few hours of work, necessarily.

  7. I had no idea about this. It makes sense… like when farmers. Still, it seems pretty extreme. I’d be willing to experiment with it though. :>)

    -Marshall Jones Jr.

  8. Finally, support for something I have proposed for a long time! Seriously, doesn’t it just make sense to wake up with the sun and to go to bed when the sun does? Could humans survive a winter without man-made structures? Heck no! Is this logic flawed? Yes, but so what? Perhaps the pro-hibernators should pool our money together and just go to bed.

    Thanks for sharing!

  9. Not to get too political, but could we make sure that everyone in Washington D.C. signs on to this idea, too, before we all go to sleep? I think we could all sleep safely and securely if we knew that COngress and the bureaucrats snuggled down for a long winter’s nap first.

  10. “if someone died, they just packed him or her in a cold place and waited until spring to have the funeral.” Nice visual for the espression “frozen chosen”.

  11. For the geeks among us, from the wiki:

    The Little Ice Age (LIA) was a period of cooling that occurred after a warmer era known as the Medieval Warm Period. While not a true ice age, the term was introduced into scientific literature by François E. Matthes in 1939. It is conventionally defined as a period extending from the 16th to the 19th centuries though climatologists and historians working with local records no longer expect to agree on either the start or end dates of this period, which varied according to local conditions.

    The Little Ice Age brought colder winters to parts of Europe and North America. Farms and villages in the Swiss Alps were destroyed by encroaching glaciers during the mid-17th century. Canals and rivers in Great Britain and the Netherlands were frequently frozen deeply enough to support ice skating and festivals. The first River Thames frost fair was in 1607; the last in 1814, although changes to the bridges and the addition of an embankment affected the river flow and depth, hence diminishing the possibility of freezes. The freeze of the Golden Horn and the southern section of the Bosphorus took place in 1622. In 1658, a Swedish army marched across the Great Belt to Denmark to invade Copenhagen. The Baltic Sea froze over, enabling sledge rides from Poland to Sweden, with seasonal inns built on the way. The winter of 1794/1795 was particularly harsh when the French invasion army under Pichegru could march on the frozen rivers of the Netherlands, while the Dutch fleet was fixed in the ice in Den Helder harbour. In the winter of 1780, New York Harbor froze, allowing people to walk from Manhattan to Staten Island. Sea ice surrounding Iceland extended for miles in every direction, closing that island’s harbors to shipping.
    The last written records of the Norse Greenlanders are from a 1408 marriage in the church of Hvalsey — today the best-preserved of the Norse ruins.

    The severe winters affected human life in ways large and small. The population of Iceland fell by half. Iceland also suffered failures of cereal crops and people moved away from a grain-based diet. The Norse colonies in Greenland starved and vanished (by the 15th century) as crops failed and livestock could not be maintained through increasingly harsh winters, though Jared Diamond noted that they had exceeded the agricultural carrying capacity before then. In North America, American Indians formed leagues in response to food shortages. In Southern Europe, in Portugal, snow storms were much more frequent while today they are rare. There are reports of heavy snowfalls in the winters of 1665, 1744 and 1886.

    • I hereby appoint Fr. Ernesto as Director of Research and Information for the Take Back the Right to Hibernate movement!

    • textjunkie says

      Funnily enough someone made a passing reference to the mini-Ice Age the other day and I’ve been meaning to look up more info about it–thanks!! that’s what I needed to know!

  12. It’s time to fight for our right to hibernate during the winter!

    I can hear Weird Al’s parody of that Beastie Boys song now: “You gotta fight…for your right…to hiiiiiiiiibernate!”

  13. No more than a week ago, I mentioned to a friend that I wished I were a bear so I could hibernate (like the rest of the bears here in far northern Wisconsin). Think about it! Six months of summer, six months of sleep. No propane bills, no shoveling, no being late for work due to treacherous driving conditions. And when you came out in the spring you’d be skinny and have to eat as much as you could all summer long in order to hibernate again. Perfect!

  14. I really thought you were going to go on to talk about Hebrews 3…

    • For church marketing purposes, the Take Back the Right to Hibernate movement hereby adopts the slogan, “There remains, therefore, a rest for the people of God.” : )

  15. YES!!!

  16. It was 75 degrees in Pasadena yesterday. Apparently, all of us in the sunshine states will have to work 24/7 to make up for you hibernators… meanwhile, you’ll work the later half of the year and get paid the same wages?! What’s going on here?
    ; )

    • IMHO, those who have chosen to live in warmer climates are theologically suspect. : )

    • Kinda reminds me of Matthew 20:1-16.

      “. When the workers arrived, the ones who had been hired at five in the afternoon were given a full day’s pay.The workers who had been hired first thought they would be given more than the others. But when they were given the same, 11they began complaining to the owner of the vineyard. 12They said, “The ones who were hired last worked for only one hour. But you paid them the same that you did us. And we worked in the hot sun all day long!””

  17. It’s attractive – and living in western central Ohio, my winters look a lot like Chaplain Mike’s: mostly grey and brown.

    However, I’d settle just for shortening the work day from 9-3 between December 1 and Feb 28, in conjunction with a federally-mandated siesta. My day would be so much better if I could squeeze in a power nap around 2 PM.

    Wish we aped the Europeans’ approach to vacations, too – minimum of four weeks or so for ALL. With job transience so high now, it’s next to impossible to actually have the vacation earned by experience in the work force.

  18. textjunkie says

    I’ve lived too long in the southern sunshine–the concept of sleeping for 6 months has no appeal… 🙁 Besides, who’s going to take care of the emergency appendectomy that someone needs in January? 😉

  19. Tom Huguenot says

    Well, it all makes sense to me. There was, in those days, not much you could do in the fields during winter, even if in some areas there was room for other activities such as weaving. In other regions, men left their villages to go work as masons in the cities, but all this was a relatively late (19th century) development.

    I am Lutheran, but I need to say that the so-called “Protestant work ethic” is the saddest legacy of the Reformation.
    Think of it: before the French Revolution, the Catholic Church imposed 90 days (including Sundays) of rest minimum for all workers. Yup, over 5 weeks of vacation already then…

    • The same was true in the East, in Orthodoxy. Most people do not realize that the many Church feasts were opportunities that the Church gave the common person to relax, besides just Sunday. The same was true in Old Testament Israel. Look at all the mandated rest times and add them up, and they make our puny two weeks off and some holidays look sad. Let alone talking about the sabbatical year.

  20. As an American currently snowed in here in Western Europe, I can say that there is some remnant of this attitude still here today. Yes, some people have had to trudge through this mess to keep vital supplies and services going, the mindset about all other non-necessities is cancel until safe and stay at home. No one at our church had any problem with us cancelling our weekly meeting as our untreated roads are now impassable; Sunday morning is tentative at the moment due to a predicted snow storm and the church heater has seized up.

    All scheduled activities throughout the country, plus schools and any other meetings, are postponed. With all major roads in the country about to be closed due to lack of salt and plows, everyone’s attitude has been good about waiting this cold out. My American background had me anticipating people pushing on with progress despite the elements, but I’m glad people are being so sensible about the non-essentials, of which there are actually many. It’s been a good time to reflect on what’s necessary and what can wait when life happens.

  21. Central Indiana? My daughter is in Upland – (Taylor Univ) – where are you?

  22. Coming back to say, I do wonder if it was just men who benefited from this. I can’t see children agreeing to hibernate through the winter unless drugged. And if a baby was born in the winter, someone’s gotta help take care of those diapers. I’m thinking women, as usual, got stuck taking care of everything while the men napped away 😉

    • If I read the British Medical Journal report correctly, the people described in Russia ate a piece of hard bread per day. Not much energy coming from that.

      All joking aside, the conditions these people faced were severe beyond our imagination. Their form of “hibernation” was most likely necessary for survival.

      Also, Lydia’s note below shows that the work involved in getting ready for such a long period of forced idleness was not very fun either. I’m sure it wore out parents and kids alike. Not much of a “childhood” like we know was possible for kids in those families.

  23. Well, it sounds great until one adds up all the work it took them to have supplies for winter. All the wood that had to be chopped and stacked, all the food that had to be harvested and stored for winter. Just read some Little House on the Prarie to your kid to get the picture. :o)

  24. Sounds good to me. I think I’m naturally predisposed to this approach to Winter. When the days get shorter my appetite goes up (storage) and my desire to sleep increases too. Would that I had the luxury of living this way.

  25. KR Wordgazer says

    Well, no wonder people grew so much less tall then. If they lived through the winter on one piece of bread a day. . . .

    Even children wouldn’t have much energy on that diet. And I bet tons of kids just died.

    I don’t think I want to live like that, thanks anyway.

    • Gosh, you guys, this was supposed to be fun.

    • I was thinking just the opposite :). That is, while I was reading the post and sitting with my coughing children, one of whom has pneumonia, I was thinking how much healthier we would be if we followed this. Masses of sick people would not be crowding into schools, offices, stores, etc. and sharing their germs with others. I am not criticizing people who still have to work and shop when sick. Unfortunately, our society does not provide a way for people to stay home in the winter and rest, even when sick. Everyone is on the go 24/7 in our society and it is wearing me out; following the natural rhythms of the seasons really appeals to me.

  26. But what about the lost productivity? How in the world did the big banks get by without the little people working to create the capital? Didn’t they measure the success of their country by how rich the rich got?

    Seriously, when I travel outside the country I always wonder why we Americans are such workaholics, even to the detriment of our standard of living and quality of life.

    I mean, we think it’s a remarkable family-friendly — and anti-business, for that matter — practice to let a woman have their job back after having a baby and going six weeks off without pay. I wonder how many abortions would not happen if our maternity regulations were more in line with other developed nations, ie giving moms and dads more time before having to return to work and more salary than none.

  27. Explains why I pack on the pounds each fall. Its my hibernation gene.

  28. Hybernate = High burn rate (I like the weight loss aspect of this!)

  29. Thank you for everything. Very useful

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