My First Experience of the Russian Winter

"It's the life of the crystal, the architect of the flake, the fire of the frost, the soul of the sunbeam. This crisp winter air is full of it." - John Burroughs

Photo by Laura Buron on Unsplash (

In Russia, winter, also known as zima (зима), is the predominant season stretching for a period of over 3 to 9 months depending on the region of the Russian Federation you live in. While for most of the international students, as well as some native Russians, this season can be brutal and bitingly cold, the onset of the sparkling white snow makes this city a beautiful landscape captured on a painter's canvas. Winter in St. Petersburg is both charming and mystical; the city is transformed into a magical wonderland.

My First-Ever Snowfall

I hail from India and my city doesn't witness very cold winters. The temperature usually ranges between +8 and +15 degrees Celsius. As a child, I had always wished to experience snowfall at least once in my life. It was November 15, 2022, I was on my way to the university for classes when it started snowing. I was so amazed and happy to be witnessing snowfall for the first time in my life. It rather seemed to be a magical experience for me — the beautiful snowflakes falling from the sky covering the ground like a soft white blanket, the air filled with freshness. I was busy capturing videos and photos and playing with ice when I remembered I had to rush to the metro station. Although I was almost an hour late for my classes, it was a pure magical sight to see and my happiness was at its peak.

"According to an old saying, truth, in reality, is white, sparkling, frosty cold, silent and endless: something like the boundless Siberian tundra landscape." - Elena Chernyshov

Photo courtesy of the subject.
Photo courtesy of the subject.

Winter Activities

Although Russian winter is famous for being harsh and cold, it brings with itself the joys of winter activities — making a snowman, skating, skiing, snowball fighting, ice hockey, and so much more. Spending winter in St. Petersburg should be on your bucket list for sure. Although I had no prior experience with any of these activities, I decided to try my hand, well let's say my legs, at ice skating. Ice skating can be said to be one of the most popular winter sports here in this city. From New Holland, to Yelagin Island, to Sevkabel Port, I spend most of my weekends ice rink hopping. I am still at beginner level and very often fall multiple times before completing one full circle around the rink but I can say that I am thoroughly enjoying the process.

 Sevkabel Port ice rink. Photo courtesy of the subject.
Sevkabel Port ice rink. Photo courtesy of the subject.

Winter Festivals

Winter in St. Petersburg is also the time when people come together with friends and family to celebrate festivals such as New Year, Christmas, Epiphany, and Maslenitsa. I was surprised when I found out that in Russia Christmas is celebrated after the New Year and also that here we celebrate New Year twice — first comes "New" New Year celebrated on January 1 with the rest of the world and then there is "Old" New Year (or Orthodox New Year) on January 14. The same goes for Christmas, too — on December 25 we celebrate Catholic Christmas and on January 7 we celebrate the Orthodox Christmas. The entire city is lit with multicolored lights, huge New Year’s trees decorated with sparkling lights, people dressed up as Father Frost (the Russian equivalent of Santa Claus), and of course not to miss are the Christmas Fairs.

A beautiful display of streetlights in the city center. Photo courtesy of the subject.
A beautiful display of streetlights in the city center. Photo courtesy of the subject.

I made sure to utilize my winter break properly by taking part in all fun activities, getting accustomed to some popular Russian traditions (for that I made sure to watch the The Irony of Fate on New Year’s Eve with my friends), throwing snowballs at friends as well as some random people, and also trying some hot drinks and ginger cookies.

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Master's student, Business Transformation Strategies and Technologies