Bernard Arcand was right | Let’s enjoy winter

Winter always knocks on our doors without warning. Snowy cars, icy sidewalks, sub-zero meters, terrible road conditions… All the reasons seem good to hate it. If postcards depict it as a magical season, it is clear that winter, more often than not, bothers us, inconveniences us, slows us down. Why is this so?

The late anthropologist Bernard Arcand raised this question in Let’s abolish wintera work which will celebrate its 25e birthday on January 15th. He recalled that in the 18the century, our ancestors worked tirelessly during the summer in order to face the cold season. Once the latter was well established, they had nothing to do other than cook, repair holey clothes, make new furniture… and rest.

For French Canadians of this era, winter was a time not only of respite, but also of feasting. Many people took advantage of the occasion to drink, sing and dance in the company of their neighbors. This is what the British traveler Isaac Weld observed: “When one has spent a winter in this country, one begins to no longer fear the rigor of this season so much; and as for Canadians, they prefer it to all others. It is for them the time of rest and pleasure. »

The frantic pace of modern lifeborn

Why has our appreciation of winter changed so much? According to Bernard Arcand, the answer lies in the advent of the modern way of life.

During the 20the century, Quebec experienced rapid industrialization and most peasants became workers. While the cycle of the seasons once punctuated their daily lives, they found themselves working all year round, without ever slowing down. It was at this moment that they experienced, for the first time, a deep disgust for winter.

Obviously, winter can be unforgiving. Let us remember the ordeal experienced by Jacques Cartier and his crew during their first winter in Quebec. “We were continually enclosed in ice, which was more than two fathoms thick,” wrote the famous explorer who, the previous summer, had found the climate of Quebec so temperate that he had nicknamed the place where he was the “Bay of Chaleurs”. Result: 25 of the 110 sailors who accompanied him did not survive the journey.

Fortunately, technological advances have significantly reduced the number of cold-related deaths. Ironically, it is also the hectic pace of modern life that reinforces our aversion to the cold season. Dressing the kids, shoveling snow from the car, finding a place to park it, driving at low speed on icy roads to avoid accidents, all in the hope of getting to the office on time… As the seasons naturally change , our schedule does not change.

In a society where time moves faster and faster, as the philosopher Hartmut Rosa has shown, winter hinders our productivity and efficiency. It stands as an obstacle to the frenetic pace of the world.

The anthropologist Bernard Arcand also noted that our societies do everything in their power to “abolish winter”. This is evidenced by the fact that the City of Montreal spends nearly $200 million annually in snow removal costs, in addition to spreading several thousand tons of gravel on the roads and sidewalks. In this curious society of ours, we treat snow as waste to be disposed of. We want to live as if winter didn’t exist.

Take the temps

Recently, while I was walking through the snowy streets of Montreal, a man in his sixties approached me as I was leaving a business. “It’s been a long time since we’ve seen that,” he said to me, watching the snowflakes fall from the sky. It reminds me of that time when I was little…”

I then thought about how children, living free from the pressures of modern life, manage to fully enjoy the wonders of winter. A question then came to my mind: why do we persist in leading a productive life during winter when nature is against us?

In his brilliant work, Bernard Arcand invited us to consider this time of year in the same way as summer, by reestablishing its status as a dead season. He thus suggested that we reconnect with what our distant ancestors still knew how to do: take the time to appreciate winter.

1. Let’s abolish winter!Bernard Arcand, Les Éditions du Boréal, 1999


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