Lesson of the Day: ‘How We Survive Winter’

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Lesson of the Day: ‘How We Survive Winter’

Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

Featured Article: “How We Survive Winter” by Elizabeth Dias

This year, the winter solstice arrives in the depths of the coronavirus pandemic. In this article, rich with photographs and evocative winter imagery, we are reminded of the possibilities for hope and renewal at this dark time. In this lesson, you will learn about different beliefs and traditions surrounding winter and the solstice. Then you will use art to reflect on what this winter means to you.

Scroll through the images in the featured article without reading any text. Choose one image that you find interesting and ask yourself these three questions:

  • What do you notice about this picture?

  • How do the color, composition and texture affect your experience of the image?

  • What feeling, word or image comes to mind as you look at the photograph?

As you read the featured article, keep looking closely at the images and consider the ways in which they relate to your experience of the text.

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. How does the language used in the first two paragraphs of the article help to establish the tone? How would you characterize the language and tone in this article?

2. How does the Citizen Potawatomi Nation use winter to document the passage of time and age?

3. What does Robin Wall Kimmerer, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, mean when she says, “Winter is a teacher of vulnerability”? Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?

4. According to the article, what are some of the reasons that this winter is one of the hardest? Do you have any personal fears or worries this winter that you would add to the list in the article?

5. Are you familiar with any winter rituals, stories or celebrations that different cultures embrace during the long winter months? Do any of the ones mentioned in the article feel meaningful to you? Are there others that you observe with your family or community?

6. The article discusses the ways that the changing seasons have helped to mark a very different, and often painful, year. How have you marked the passage of time this year? Have you looked to weather or changes in daylight? Or something else?

7. The featured article shared perspectives on winter from people of different backgrounds: an author, a priest, several professors, an astronomer and a plant ecologist. Choose one quotation that felt particularly powerful or meaningful to you and share why you chose it. Does it give you hope or appreciation for winter? Or does it simply affirm fears you have about the winter ahead?

Omid Safi, professor of Iranian studies at Duke University, talked about the Iranian tradition of Yalda. At this winter solstice feast, families gather surrounded by candles, eat pomegranates and nuts, and recite poetry. However, Dr. Safi specifies that even if someone could not afford a feast, it is enough to bring a flower to Yalda: “Look for the smallest bit of beauty around you.”

What is the smallest bit of beauty around you? Can you capture it with a photograph or drawing, in a similar way that of the photographers in the featured article? Or can you capture it using words in the form of a poem?

You can find inspiration from the photographs in the article and the depictions of winter traditions. Then look around you: Is there something beautiful that sits near your work space? Outside your window? The smile of a family member?

Whatever it is, capture it either as a photograph, drawing or poem and share it with your classmates by doing a virtual or in-person gallery walk. After seeing your classmates’ work, reflect together on themes you noticed and any images that were particularly powerful.

The featured article shared many stories and interpretations of the meaning of winter and the solstice. The family of Roy Nageak Sr. has lived in Utqiagvik, Alaska, for hundreds of years. He said that every winter “families would get together and tell these stories of who we are, where we came from,” and they would share “the wisdom and knowledge they have gathered for hundreds and thousands of years in the darkness of the winter.”

Are there stories that have been passed down in your family about winter? Do you share stories of winter adventures, holiday celebrations or traditions? Or has a story been passed down about how someone survived a blizzard or found kindness from a neighbor at a time of need? Maybe your family has a story of how they have learned to cope and thrive during the cold, dark days of winter.

If you have not inherited a story of winter, create your own. What story do you want to hear this winter or would you want to pass down to future generations? It could be a story that uses metaphor or anthropomorphizes a winter object or animal. You can use inspiration from the article and also weave in current themes in your life and lessons you are learning this year.

Whether you choose to share a story passed down in your family or create your own, ensure that your story has a clear beginning, middle and end. Many of the stories in the featured article follow an oral tradition, so you could choose to record the audio of your story or to write it down. If you are recording your story on an Android phone, you can download a free voice recording app like RecForge II or Voice Recorder. For iPhones, you can use the Voice Memos app.

As you develop or rehearse your story, play with language and imagery as Elizabeth Dias did in the featured article. You should revise your story and get feedback from friends or family members. When you feel confident and excited about what you wrote, you can share an excerpt in the comments section of this article. If you are working with an audio recording, you can share your story with your classmates.


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