Catholicism, Catholic, Traditional Catholicism, Catholic Church

Genesis 8:22 "All the days of the earth, seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat, summer and winter, night and day, shall not cease."


Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after Gaudete Sunday (3rd Sunday of Advent) are known as "Advent Embertide," and they come near the beginning of the Season of Winter (December, January, February). Liturgically, the readings for the days' Masses follow along with the general themes of Advent, opening up with Wednesday's Introit of Isaias 45: 8 and Psalm 18:2 :

Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the Just: let the earth be opened and bud forth a Savior. The heavens show forth the glory of God: and the firmament declareth the work of His hands.

Wednesday's and Saturday's Masses will include one and four Lessons, respectively, with all of them concerning the words of the Prophet Isaias except for the last lesson on Saturday, which comes from Daniel and recounts how Sidrach, Misach, and Abdenago are saved from King Nabuchodonosor's fiery furnace by an angel. This account, which is followed by a glorious hymn, is common to all Embertide Saturdays but for Whit Embertide.

The Gospel readings for the three days concern, respectively, the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-28), Visitation (Luke 1:37-47), and St. John the Baptist's exhorting us to "prepare the way of the Lord and make straight His paths" (Luke 3:1-6).

The Natural Season

Psalm 147:12, 16-17
"Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem:
praise thy God, O Sion.
Who giveth snow like wool:
scattereth mists like ashes.
He sendeth his crystal like morsels:
who shall stand before the face of his cold?"

Winter is a time of reflection, when human activity is stilled and snow blankets the world with silence. For the Christian, Winter symbolizes Hope: though the world now appears lifeless and makes us think of our own mortality, we hope in our resurrection because of the Resurrection of the One Whose Nativity we await now. How providential that the Christ Child will be born at the beginning of this icy season, bringing with Him all the hope of Spring! Also among our Winter feasts are the Epiphany and Candlemas, two of the loveliest days of the year, the first evoked by water, incense, and gold; the latter by fire...

Yes, despite the typical, unimaginative view of Winter as a long bout with misery, the season is among the most beautiful and filled with charms. The ephemeral beauty of a single snowflake... the pale blue tint of sky reflected in snow that glitters, and gives way with a satisfying crunch under foot... skeletal trees entombed in crystal, white as bones, cold as death, creaking under the weight of their icy shrouds... the wonderful feeling of being inside, next to a fire, while the winds whirl outside... the smell of burning wood mingled with evergreen... warm hands embracing your wind-bitten ones... the brilliant colors of certain winter birds, so shocking against the ocean of white... the wonderfully long nights which lend themselves to a sense of intimacy and quiet! Go outside and look at the clear Winter skies ruled by Taurus, with the Pleiades on its shoulder and Orion nearby... Such beauty!

Even if you are not a "winter person," consider that Shakespeare had the right idea when he wrote in "Love's Labours Lost":

Why should proud summer boast
Before the birds have any cause to sing?
Why should I joy in an abortive birth?
At Christmas I no more desire a rose
Than wish a snow in May’s new-fangled mirth;
But like of each thing that in season grows.

and Symbols

Winter is characterized by "wet and cold," and is associated with the golden years of old age, the humour of phlegm, the phlegmatic temperament, and the element of water. Giuseppe Arcimboldo's fascinating portraits of the season and its associated element lead the imagination in all directions:

Winter, by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, ca. 1575Water, by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, ca. 1575

Get your children to think of what changes atmospherically and astronomically during the this season. Why is it so cold? How does the cold affect the earth's air and waters? Remember that lore says that the weather conditions of each of the three days of an Embertide foretell the weather of the next three months, so the weather seen on Wednesday of Advent Embertide predicts the weather of the coming January, Friday's weather foretells the weather of February, and Saturday's weather foretells the weather of March. Make a note of the weather on those three days and see if the old tales are true!

What stars can be seen during the Winter months? Do your children know the traditional names for this season's full Moons?:



Cold Moon


Wolf Moon


Snow Moon

If they were in charge of naming the Moons of this season, what would they call them?

Ask your children to consider how the seasonal changes of Winter affect the plants and animals. How have the trees changed? What are the animals doing now? Which are hibernating? Which are gone, having migrated? What do the animals that aren't hibernating or gone eat now? Have any stored up food to eat during the cold months? Which have fur that has grown thicker to protect them? Do any have fur that has changed color to match the snow?

Ask them to consider how the seasonal changes affect (or traditionally affected) the activities of man. What can we do now that we couldn't do at other times of the year? What can't we do? How do modern conveniences affect the answers to those questions? Ask them how they would ensure they had shelter, food, and water if they were put into the middle of the woods right now, with the season as it is. What plants and animals would be available to eat? How would they keep themselves dry and warm and protected from the winds?

In the Middle Ages, the months are almost always uniformly depicted by showing the "Labours of Man" throughout the seasons. In stained glass windows, in illuminated manuscripts, one sees over and over the same human activities used to portray the months. Below are the months of December, January and February from the "Très Belles Heures" by the brothers Jean, Paul, and Hermann Limbourg, the same men who illuminated the "Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry". Click on each picture to see how that month is portrayed in the that latter work:




slaughtering the animals for food


feasting on what has been stored up earlier in the year. The feasting is often depicted by showing Janus -- the two-faced keeper of doors and gates, the symbol of beginnings and endings -- at table. Here the concept of past and future implicit in the old year giving way to the new and usually depicted by Janus is shown using two men facing in opposite directions.


warming oneself by the fire


In addition to these things, now is the time to make snow angels, build snowmen and snowforts and ice sculptures, sled, ski, skate, ice fish, sit around hearths and tell tales, make crafts indoors, make pine tea and snow ice cream,1 watch for and feed the Winter birds, and, most of all, praise God for His artistry and providence... Get to it! And enjoy Vivaldi's ode to Winter from his "Four Seasons" concertos as you do:

-- and know that just when you tire of this season, Spring will be here!


See also Lenten Embertide (Spring), Whit Embertide (Summer),
and Michaelmas Embertide (Autumn). Read also about Rogation Days if you are tempted to inordinately sentimentalize nature.

1 How to make snow ice cream, pine tea, and pine soda. For the pine recipes, use Eastern White Pine, Western White Pine, Red Pine, or Sugar Pine needles (Eastern White Pine is said to be the best). Note that some pines can be toxic, so identify them properly. White pine needles are loaded with vitamin C, so are good for cold -- but pine shouldn't be consumed by pregnant women!:

Snow Ice Cream

14 oz. can  sweetened condensed milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
10 -12 cups or so of snow

Mix together the sweetened condensed milk and vanilla in a big bowl. Dump in the snow and mix.

Pine Tea

Steep for 20 minutes 1/2 cup of pine needles in 3 cups water that's been brought to a boil (steep, don't boil or you'll destroy the vitamin C). If desired, sweeten with sugar or honey, and add lemon if you want.

Pine Soda

2 cup pine needles
2 1/2 cups water
4 TBSP sugar

Rinse the pine needles a few times in water. Put the needles and sugar in a tall widemouth jar made of thick glass, pour the water over, close the jar, and give it a shake to dissolve the sugar. Let sit on a window sill for 3 to 7 days, checking periodically starting on day 3 to make sure it's not too bubbly (the jar could explode as the yeast found naturally on the pine needles feeds on the sugar!). When it's a bit bubbly (it will be a lot more carbonated than it looks!), go outside and carefully -- without shaking -- open the jar (it may bubble up and spray!). Strain into glasses over ice. Add a slice of lemon and enjoy.

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