It’s December, and in a good portion of the U.S., that generally means cold temperatures, icy roads and the chance of snow. Usually.
This year is different. Could be because the Mayan calendar predicts the world is going to end in under two weeks or because the polar ice caps are melting at record rates. Whatever the cause, the weather has been curiously mild. I live in the northeast where we’ve had temperatures climb into the 60s during the day. Lovely, but not fitting with our normal attire of heavy coats, boots and gloves (just for the record, I love heeled boots with long skirts so I’m suffering a mini fashion crisis here). We’ve seen one snowfall, pretty while it lasted, but not enough to amount to anything.
As much as I love warm weather (and wouldn’t mind living somewhere tropical year round), I’ve always held a fascination for stories set in cold climates. A few of my all-time favorite novels have earned that distinction because the author employed a winter backdrop. Snow settings can be beautiful and magical, but also claustrophobic. THE RINGED CASTLE by Dorothy Dunnett (book 5 of the Lymond Chronicles) is an amazing read set in 16th Century Russia that conjures all three of those feelings.
Russian folklore is also where I found the legend of The Snow Maiden, a short poignant fairy tale. There are several variations but all agree on the basics – – a woodcutter and his wife, lonely and childless, decide to amuse themselves one day by fashioning a snegurochka, a maiden from snow. Taken with their creation, they fervently wish her to be a daughter they can love and cherish. Their desire is so strong it weaves an enchantment that brings the snow maiden to life. She appears in a robe and cap of pale ivory that is embellished by pearls and trimmed in white fur. Overjoyed, they take her into their home as their own child.
All is well until the first sign of spring when the snow maiden tells them she must head north to lands where winter still reigns. Upset at the thought of losing her, the woodcutter barricades the door as his wife wraps the girl in her arms to prevent her from fleeing. As she holds her, the snow maiden slowly melts into nothingness. Overcome by grief, the couple mourns throughout the year. The next winter their daughter returns and their sadness becomes joy. The snow maiden promises to stay the season and return each year after that.
In another version of the tale, the snow maiden falls in love with a young man from the village. One day they wander into a birch wood where the last vestiges of winter are fading and green shoots struggle to push up from the ground. The snow maiden turns her face to the sun and with its touch dwindles into an icy mist that is whisked away by the wind. And so winter must always yield to light and life as winter yields to spring.
I love these old fairy tales. What about you? Are there any special ones that come to mind? Any favorites from childhood that still resonate with you the way snow and winter resonate with magic? Tell me about them. I’d love to hear your thoughts!