How Our Ancestors Survived the Winter

Dear Fellow Survivalist;

Greetings. As I look out my window, I still see green grass and trees, unlike many of you. I live too far south to receive much in the way of snow, unlike those of you who live up north. But I can’t forget the snow-filled winters I spent in the Colorado Rockies and in Upstate New York. I’ve had plenty of 24″ snowfalls to last me my life.

But as I imagine the snow outside (that’s about all the snow I get), I’m reminded of the severe struggles that our ancestors had, in order to make it through the winter months. Of course, some didn’t manage to make it, but died in the cold, not to be found until spring. But the fact that any of them made it through the winter, without the convenience of modern central heating and insulation is somewhat of a miracle. They had to be ready and they had to know what to do.

So, what did it take for those hearty souls to survive the winter? On one hand, it wasn’t much, while on the other hand it was everything.

In past times, people’s lives revolved around preparing for winter. I guess we could say that all our ancestors were preppers. They had to be, in order to survive the winter. If they didn’t get a good harvest in the fall and didn’t take advantage of the warm months to put up enough hay for the animals and enough wood for the fire, they might not make it till spring.

The single most important thing to stockpile for the winter was firewood. While it would be possible to go out in the woods and cut firewood in the winter, it would be difficult and dangerous working in the cold. Deadfalls and broken branches would be hidden under the snow, so live trees would have to be cut. Most people preferred leaving those trees living and cut up deadfalls for their fires. So, they would gather wood in the warm weather, bucking and splitting it, so they could stack it ready at hand to get them through the winter.

You didn’t have enough firewood unless you had too much. Without the ability to be sure exactly how cold winter would be or exactly when spring would come, it was necessary to have more than enough. That way, they could be sure of not running out.

Even with plenty of firewood, homes weren’t all that warm. People kept bundled up through the winter, just to stay warm. Staying in bed, under the covers, wasn’t all that bad an idea either, if one was doing an activity like sewing, which could be completed in bed. The extra warmth of the bed was not something to take lightly.

Water usually wasn’t a problem as they could always melt snow. However, melting snow for water has to be done carefully. If the snow is not stirred while melting, it will scald, making it taste bad. So, there was usually one person stirring, while another added fresh snow to the pot.

Food was the other big problem in wintertime. The single most common trade was farming, with more than half the population being actively employed as farmers, working on farm homesteads that they established themselves. That gave them a good source of food, assuming they had a good year. But not everyone did. Some would lose their crops to hail or grasshoppers, leaving them with virtually nothing. Those families might starve in the winter.

Winters were spent mostly indoors, with people only going outside to perform necessary chores. Wintertime was a time for sitting by the fire, repairing things and making things to make their lives better. Many a horse’s harness, piece of furniture and piece of clothing were fashioned in the wintertime, sitting around that fire.

The one exception was Sunday, when everyone went to church. Not all churches had wood-burning stoves in them, so some were quite cold. Pews were boxed in, allowing families to bring soapstones or foot warmers to place on the floor in their box. A lap blanket would be spread over everyone’s knees and the heat from that soapstone would help them to keep warm.

The first chore of the day was always tending the fire. At night, the fire was banked, with a large log or two placed in it to make it through the night. Even so, it would tend to burn down to coals overnight and the first one up would coax those coals to life, getting the fire blazing once again and warming up the home. As the home warmed, others would crawl out of bed to start their day.

Winters were harsh in those days. Everyone’s one major thought was survival; getting through the winter, so that they could get seed in the ground in the spring. Just making it through was enough, and a cause of celebration.

That’s why the harvest festival was always so important to people. Brining in a good harvest was a sign of a good winter. People rightly rejoiced, knowing that they would have enough food to see them through. The harvest was brought in, grain was ground, produce was canned and root vegetables were stored up in the root cellar. Then everyone hunkered down for the winter.

We need to realize that if the SHTF, we’re all going to have to be ready for the winter. Are you; or have you been prepping a bit idealistically? Remember, winter won’t wait for you to get ready, and you can’t count on a disaster waiting for spring. Be prepared for the worst, and you’ll be ready for anything.

In the mean time, be sure to keep your powder dry and keep your survival equipment close at hand.


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