Fighting the winter “blahs” in Cleveland: embracing the season for our collective wellbeing

Friends playing together at recess

By Nelson Beckford, Program Director, Neighborhood Revitalization & Engagement

In traditional cultures, the cycle of the seasons is recognized and celebrated with ceremonies. These ceremonies and traditions encourage connection to people and place or a greater sense of belonging and community. Isolation and loneliness are the opposite of belonging, and this pandemic – especially this winter – has been difficult on our collective mental, social and physical wellbeing.

This realization led to an informal talk that we called “Fighting the Winter Blahs,” with guest presentations by local experts See You At The Top (SYATT), Seventh Hill and Neighborhood Connections. Our guests challenged us, as residents of Greater Cleveland, to fully embrace winter. We learned about winter gear, nature equity as well as the notion of a “Winter City,” and we unpacked our individual and cultural attitudes towards winter. I was struck by how little we take into account all four seasons in our thinking, planning and policy. But why? One solution is to create new winter traditions and learn from traditions outside the Western European and Nordic references, such as:

  • The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy, ancestral land of what we now call Greater Cleveland) celebrated a Mid-Winter Festival in January and February that involved giving thanks for the gifts of the past year and preparing for the New Year. 
  • The Blackfeet Tribe of Montana viewed winter solstice as a time for games and community dances. In fact, many communities held their smaller gatherings, with unique drumming, singing, and dancing.
  • Dong Zhi, or the “arrival of winter,” is an important festival in China. Families get together and celebrate the year they had. Special foods like rice balls are enjoyed.  
  • The Hopi Indians of northern Arizona have a winter celebration that includes purification, dancing, and sometimes gift-giving. 
  • The Hungarian town of Mohács has the Busho, in which the townspeople dress as horned monsters, wander the town swilling spiced wine and homemade pálinka, and make as much noise as humanly possible to scare away winter.

Do you have an idea for a safe, inclusive and fun way to help your neighbors embrace winter this year? Our partner Neighborhood Connections recently launched Get Outside Grants, a funding opportunity to help small groups gather safely in their neighborhood this winter. Like the Blackfeet. Learn more about Get Outside Grants here.

Hopefully, some new traditions and a stronger sense of belonging and place result from this!

2 Comments

  1. Beth C.

    I love the changing seasons in Cleveland, but I have never really thought of them as reasons to give thanks and celebration – until now!
    I will take the time to welcome each one and give thanks for being able to enjoy them! Wonderful blog!

  2. Rosemary Hitchens

    I love this movement toward all-season outdoor recreation. It’s a wonderful way to create a sense-of-place in Cleveland. I’m particularly interested in how we here in Cleveland might be able to harness behavior change and community-based social marketing to drive this movement locally. I’d be happy to lend any expertise in this area (I use SBCC in my conservation work). I’ve been thinking about how we can draw on some key motivators among our local Clevelanders to overcome some of those barriers discussed on the radio segment that are keeping folks from going outside in the winter. Let me know if I can help!

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