Despite freeze, Chicago winters can be wonderful

By Lauren Kelly

The last week of September threw Chicago into a chilly autumn without warning. Fall hit as temperatures hovered in the upper 50s. People wearing scarves started to rush down sidewalks and I heard more than one commuter curse the cold days ahead.

Just thinking about winters in Chicago can make your bones shake and leave you wanting a cup of hot tea. The freezing days are brutal in this city, as anyone who’s experienced them can tell you. Even seasoned veterans usually dread the shortened sunlight, negative temperatures and unsalted sidewalks that take over the Windy City for months.

Although I too have my qualms about winter in Chicago, I have come to appreciate, and even look forward to them. I love the feeling of winters here, and could not imagine one anywhere else. The concept of a 70-degree day in early January does not make sense to me. Imagining it almost feels sacrilegious, like the universe has shifted out of alignment.

Having lived in or very near Chicago for my entire life, part of me was built around the intense winters. But even in the darkest days of January, I find contentment in warm moments.

Instead of focusing on how my knuckles are chapped, my nose is raw and my joints are so cold my knees ache and struggle to bend, I covet the stillness and serenity that envelopes the streets as night falls and everyone goes home.

Even if you’re wary or apprehensive about the coming winter in Chicago, here are some things that everyone can appreciate:

Bundling up. Each day, leaving your house becomes an adventure. Preparing to fight the elements and come out of the battle in one piece can be pretty fun.

The lake. Frozen solid, Lake Michigan is beyond beautiful—it is majestic. Because the Columbia campus is a few blocks from Monroe Harbor, everyone should go to the shore at one point this winter and look at the frozen ice. Beautiful.

Getting warm. Sometimes during long treks in the cold, you have to stop somewhere to get warm. There aren’t many things better than going into a warm bar with steamed up windows for seasonal ale on tap or a nip of bourbon to heat up. For those that aren’t of age, coffee shops work too.

City happenings. Chicago has many fun things to do in the winter to keep everyone from going crazy. Known classics include Bears games at Soldier Field and ice skating at Millennium Park—if you’re into those kinds of things. But some people, myself included, tend to favor going to movies at the Music Box Theatre or shows at small venues like Schubas and the Beat Kitchen, which always have seasonal events.

Playlists. Making winter playlists can be like setting a soundtrack to the season, making life seem like a movie. I personally love Sigur Rós’ “Ágaetis Byrjun,” Kaki King’s “Legs to Make Us Longer” and Elliott Smith’s “Either/Or” during the winter. Infinite jazz helps too.

Smells. Maybe it’s the crisp air, but it seems that sweet aromas emanating from stores travel farther in the winter. Scents from Garrett’s Popcorn and Blommer Chocolate Company downtown, along with pretty much any bakery or coffee shop infuse the air.

Camaraderie. The feeling that everyone is in it together is probably the best thing about winter here. Even after the holidays wind down, people are generally more cordial to each other. The spirit of Chicagoans is great because everyone knows how hard it is to make it through the season.

Yes, it will be cold. And yes, it will mostly suck. But winter in Chicago can be fun and even beautiful if you concentrate on warm moments. Just remember: those Chuck Taylors won’t cut it come mid-November. Get a good pair of shoes, a scarf, some hot coffee and get ready to face the single-digit temperatures. Let it begin.