Russian Language Blog

Russian Winter Myth Exposed Posted by on Jan 13, 2011 in language, Russian life

Do you like «зима» [winter]? I don’t! When my American friends hear me complain about yet another cold snap, they inevitably ask “But aren’t you from Russia, the country infamous for its long and harsh winters?”

I blame Russian literature for this question (although Russian artists added to the myth with beautiful paintings such as this one by Nikifor Krilov, called “Russian Winter“). It’s done so much to romanticize winter, more so than any other «время года» [season]. Wake up a Russian in the middle of the night and ask him to quote you some wintry poetry and I bet you’ll hear

«Зима! Крестьянин, торжествуя,

На дровнях обновляет путь.

Его лошадка, снег почуя,

Плетётся рысью как-нибудь.»

[Winter!… The countryman, enchanted,

breaks a new passage with his sleigh;

his nag has smelt the snow, and planted

a shambling hoof along the way;]

They might not know the author or remember the name of the poem or anything that follows, but these four lines are «знакомы с детства» [familiar since childhood]. (BTW, it’s from Eugene Onegin by Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin and you can find the full translation here.)

Or you might hear something like

«Мороз и солнце; день чудесный!»

[Cold frost and sunshine: day of wonder!] (this is the opening line of another of the Pushkin’s poems, Winter Morning)

You see what I’m talking about here, don’t you? Winter is presented as the time of joy, celebration, cleansing and renewal. Even in Nekrasov’s somber «Мороз, Красный Нос» [Father Frost, the Red Nose] the snow-covered landscape «в алмазах блестит» [sparkles like diamond].

Stop with the myth already! Winter is the time for «пурга» [snow blizzard], «метель» [snowstorm], «гололедица» [black ice], «гололёд» [icy rain], and frostbite-inducing «мороз» [frost]. Oh, and did I mention all of these might be happening at once? «Какой уж тут «день чудесный»!» [Some kind of “day of wonder” that would be!]

Do I sound «раздражённая» [cranky]? I told you, «я не люблю зиму» [I don’t like winter]. Sure, «морозное утро» [a crispy cold morning] with a blanket of fresh snow over everything is fine every now and then. And so is walking over «наст» [snow crust] and hearing its satisfying «хруст» [crunch]. Plus what can be more cheerful than hearing «кап-кап» [drip-drip] of «таящие сосульки» [melting icicles] during a brief «оттепель» [thaw].

But in between all this fun I want «тёплая солнечная погода» [warm sunny weather] when «травка зеленеет, солнышко блестит» [the grass is greening and the sun is shining] (do you know the rest of this poem?)

Unfortunately, there are at least two more months until that happens. In the mean time, I check weather updates for various Russian cities, including «мой любимый Волгоград» [Volgograd, my favorite city].

In case you want to check the weather in your favorite city (in Russia or around the world) on GISMETEO, here’s a little cheat-sheet of the terms you’re likely to see:

  • «прогноз» – forecast
  • «атмосферное явление» – atmospheric phenomena, what English sites describe as “clear skies”, “partly cloudy”, “rain”, etc.
  • «температура воздуха» – atmospheric temperature, in degrees Centigrade
  • «температура воды» – water temperature, in degrees Centigrade
  • «атмосферное давление» – atmospheric pressure
  • «ветер» – wind, particularly, its speed in meters per second and direction С» – northerly, «Ю» – southerly, «В» – easterly, «З» – westerly plus various combinations of these, such as «ЮЗ» – south-westerly)
  • «влажность воздуха» – humidity
  • «комфорт» – a relatively new addition to the Russian weather forecasts, this refers to the wind-chill factor in winter and to heat-humidity factor in summer. For example, tonight in Volgograd it is expected to be «пасмурно, небольшой снег» [cloudy, light snow] with «комфорт» [wind-chill] indicator at a balmy -7 degrees, up from -14 degrees in the morning.

And while the site lacks fancy Doppler radar images or videos of the latest snow-related traffic accidents, it does have «региональные карты погоды» [regional weather maps], «геомагнитый прогноз» [geomagnetic forecast], local times for sunrise and sunset, and links to non-weather-related articles. So if you’re tired of’s raw footage of students in South Carolina having a snowball fight, you should totally check it out.

What’s the weather like in your area? Let me know in the comments here or on our Facebook page. Oh, and if you can think of any other deceptively cheerful Russian poems about winter, please-please tell me about them!

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  1. Calvin:

    I’m in Волгоград now and it’s been a теплая зима. 🙂

  2. Minority:

    Буря мглою небо кроет,
    Вихри снежные крутя.
    То как зверь она завоет,
    То заплачет как дитя.

    =) Not cheerful one by Pushkin.)

    Кабы не было зимы в городах и селах,
    Никогда б не знали мы этих дней веселых!
    Hе кружила б малышня возле снежной бабы,
    Hе петляла бы лыжня, кабы, кабы, кабы…

    Cheerful one. =)

  3. sok:

    Dear Colleague –

    The 25th ANNIVERSARY EDITION of the most scandalous book in Russian
    Literature has been just published:

    Alexander S. Pushkin Secret Journal 1836-1837

    ISBN 978-0-916201-28-9


    The hero of the work, Alexander Pushkin, presents in an encapsulated form his various sexual relations, his complex thoughts on life, the nature of sin, love, and creativity, as well as the complicated path that led him to his tragic end.

    The Secret Journal has incited and continues to incite the most contradictory responses reflected in three volumes of Parapushkinistika.
    Now published in 25 countries (, the Secret Journal deserves to be placed among the most scandalous works of Russian literature.
    In spite of the international success of Pushkin’s Secret Journal lasting now a quarter century, no major U.S. publisher has dared to publish it.

    New French ( and Spanish ( editions of the Secret Journal are being published in 2011.

  4. Saint Facetious:

    I think partly all the Romanticizing of the winter comes from Russians trying to convince themselves that it’s not so bad.

  5. Minority:

    Btw, I’m a russian who loves winter.) Well, I’m not fond of -30C for a month, but it’s quite rare thing even here, in Siberia. I love fresh winter air, I love snow on the ground, I love snowballs battle, building a snowman, ice-skating and skiing. I love to fall on the snow and make an angel figure there… It’s really fun! 🙂