A friend of mine once told me she loves November. Her birthday is this month, and she likes the way the weather changes each day, delighting us with new views of nature. For her, the month is like a crossover point between golden fall and snow-white winter. The leaves are fading, but the whole experience gives us a sense of impending change and new beginnings - a peaceful condition you can embrace, while you think about life, sitting with your tea or whizzing through empty streets… That’s what my friend said, at least.
Sounds poetic, right?
Wrong! It’s total BS. This was the first time in my life someone praised November instead of saying that it makes them want to curl up and die.
Here, let me break it down for you.
Russia is quite big, as you know. Many of its regions, like the Urals, Siberia and other northern territories, already have winter in full swing with lots of snow in November. However, things are different the further west and/or south you are. Take Moscow, for instance. The snow either hasn’t arrived yet,or melts so quickly that you never really get to feel that magical Christmas spirit. And, to make matters worse, it’s already miserable, extremely cold, and dark.
Russians spend most of November in abject darkness. Just imagine: you wake up for work, and it’s dark. At 5:30 pm, as you commute back, it’s dark again. Oh, and did I mention the cold? And it’s not the kind of cold you can anticipate either. Yesterday, you were all chipper, wearing a light coat, and it was a sunny +10℃ (50℉)... and today it’s way below zero, and there are suddenly icicles visible everywhere - including your nose.
“It’s not that bad!”, some of you will undoubtedly tell me. But November has another ace up its sleeve – strong and fierce winds, penetrating your clothes right down to the skin. As one clickbaity Moscow website put it in their weather forecast: “The wind is going to blow Muscovites’ flesh right off their bones”.
So picture this. Leaves have fallen and the trees stay dry and dark, the gloomy leaden sky seems so low it could be inches above your head. “Romantic” November rain suddenly turns into a million cold, sharp arrows trying to pierce you from all directions (thanks to the wind), and no umbrella can withstand such an assault.
A fair question. Allow me to get meticulous:
– When everything is covered in snow, it feels warmer. Also, the snow makes everything outside appear brighter. Even at night, it reflects the ugly artificial lighting and everything somehow feels more joyful.
– By winter’s arrival, you gradually get used to the cold, and start dressing warmer.
– And then, of course, there are Christmas/New year decorations, which help you cope with the sad reality.
All hail the Russian central heating system! Thanks to it, your house is already heated and warm sometime in mid-September (they turn the heating on if the average temperature stays around 8C for five consecutive days). But there’s a dark side to it, too. While you can wear shorts inside, you need to put on several layers of clothes for your gloomy November walks. The constant transitions are a massive pain in the behind.
Here's a piece of advice from my friend, who walks 10 km a day no matter what: dress warm! It’s simple, but genius. When it’s not snowing, some people don’t believe they need to wear winter coats. Yes, put on your down coat, don’t forget about the hat, scarf and gloves. Finally, cover your ankles! Wearing comfortable, warm shoes is a smart idea.
READ MORE: What you REALLY should be wearing in the Russian winter! (applies to November, too)
Any physical activity will bring you much needed joy in these gloomy days. Go to the gym, sweat and stretch at home, do yoga, do meditation, do breathing exercises and other stuff that they advise on Instagram. Some of it works for real.
The home should be your cozy shelter, so light some candles, drink tea and coco, read those hygge books everyone’s crazy about. Slowly eat through your dacha apple stock... and pies - bake pies.
Some fainthearted Russians leave for warmer countries during November, but we won’t promote these acts of cowardice! If you happen to be in Russia this time of the year, you have to clench your teeth, put on your grumpy face and embrace it. Winter is just around the corner, after all. And places like Moscow and St. Petersburg are some of the most festive you’re likely to see during the holiday season.
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