Guess what many Russian proverbs, adages and expressions are about? Here’s a hint: The days are short, the wind is strong, the temperatures drop. Exactly: It’s winter. And Russians have a lot to say about the cold months!
While you wait in fear for temperatures to drop below freezing and shiver when it gets close, some parts of Russia are already frosty in October. Temperatures of –20°C (–4°F) in Moscow and even –60°C (–76°F) in Yakutsk hardly make anyone want to go on a “cozy winter walk.”
It’s much more comfortable to stay where it’s warm and comment on the weather — and why not in Russian! The language is expressive and has a number of Russian sayings and adages for every situation. Since these cold months take up half the year in some places and dominate people’s lives, there are naturally many Russian proverbs that have to do with winter and cold weather.
Think you can use them in your everyday life in the cold? We’ll equip you with the best Russian proverbs about the cold and describe the situations where you can use them.
The Best Russian Proverbs About Winter
1. В зимний холод всякий молод.
(V zimniy holod vsyakiy molod.)
Translation: “Everyone is young in the winter cold.”
This Russian saying comes from a time in ancient Russia when winter was even colder and more severe than today. Even the iciest hard freeze couldn’t keep Russians from holding festivals and celebrations outside. To keep from freezing, they had competitions, ice skating races and dances. That way, the participants could always be moving. Even older people moved around enthusiastically, as though they were young, or shaking off a few years along with the cold.
Usage: Shout these words encouragingly to the person next to you at the bus stop if you’ve been jumping up and down for 10 minutes because the bus is late from the slippery roads.
Temperature: Everything below –5°C (23°F).
2. Льдом зимой не дорожат.
(L’dom zimoy ne dorozhat.)
Translation: “Ice isn’t valued in winter.”
Remember how only a few months ago, you dragged yourself wearily from shade to shade, drank buckets of water, and sweated it back out right away? You must have dreamed of a walk-in fridge during the July heat, or at least a bathtub full of ice water. Now that you certainly won’t get heat stroke outside, you don’t appreciate the cold, but instead want the sun and warm temperatures again.
Always wanting what you can’t have — that’s what this clever Russian saying is criticizing. Stop those gloomy winter thoughts for a moment and think back to the time when you melted from the heat in your sweltering apartment. And then go outside and enjoy the icy wind in your face.
Usage: Whether you’re feeling world-weary or you want to remember that the grass on your side of the fence is pretty green — it’s a good reminder to be content.
Temperature: No upper or lower limits.
3. Декабрь — месяц старое горе кончает, новому году новым счастьем дорожку стелет.
(Dekabr’ — mesyts staroye gore konchayet, novomu godu novim schast’yem dorozhku stelet.)
Translation: “December is the month the old grief ends, and the new year lays the path with new happiness.”
Ah, Russians are far-sighted people. They’ve known for centuries that you won’t keep your many New Year’s resolutions throughout the year anyway. At best, you’ve forgotten them by March. But if you’ve been tormented since August by the gloomy foreboding that you won’t be able to completely turn your life around this year, you can now lean back in December with confidence. Nothing will happen now either.
It’s better to drink some punch and eat some cookies. The new year might come with a few more happy moments if you take it a little easier with your New Year’s resolutions. (By the way, if you don’t want to give up completely, a good New Year’s resolution is always to learn a new language.)
Usage: Say it to your friends who “quickly” want to reach their career and fitness goals before the end of the year, instead of baking cookies with you.
Temperature: Doesn’t matter, as long as it’s in December.
4. Такой холод, что птица на лету мерзнет.
(Takoy holod, chto ptitsa na letu merznet.)
Translation: “It’s so cold that the birds are freezing in mid-air.”
This one probably doesn’t require much explanation. This is the Russian equivalent of saying that “it’s brick outside” in New York City, or that it’s “cold enough to freeze your Winnebago,” except less potentially confusing.
Usage: Keep this one around for whenever it’s forbiddingly, almost deathly, cold outside. Or for whenever you need to be dramatic.
Temperature: Anytime it reaches record levels of cold.
5. Холод, хоть волков морозь.
(Holod, hot’ volkov moroz’.)
Translation: “Cold in which even wolves freeze.”
In many parts of Russia, winter means snow from October to April. In Saint Petersburg, frozen rivers and canals become streets. The Gulf of Finland (that’s the name of the part of the Baltic Sea that borders Russia) also freezes over and invites you to go for a walk on (admittedly quite rare) sunny days.
But it’s not so pleasant everywhere. Temperatures around –40°C (–40°F) in Siberia are nothing unusual. The icy cold gets into your bones, pinches your face, and freezes your eyelashes. Even the best fur coat and the thickest felt boots, called valenki, hardly help to protect you from the cold.
Anyone who still has to go outside rarely does without commenting on the winter cold. It’s either the wolves or the birds in the sky that freeze — hardly any other language is as good at cursing the cold as Russian.
Usage: Your friends want to take you to an outdoor get-together while you’re reading a book in peace or getting ready to binge a series? Snap back with this expression, and they’ll shiver from more than just the cold.
Temperature: Depending on your sensitivity to cold, anything below freezing.
6. У зимы брюхо велико.
(U zimy bryuho veliko.)
Translation: “Winter has a big belly.”
This Russian adage is presumably as old as the seasons: In winter you don’t move as much, but you’re even more hungry. Whether it’s because of the cold or the tasty Christmas treats, the result is the same. Whether you’re in Chicago, Moscow or Nizhny Novgorod, at the end of winter your pants are sitting a little tight. And it’s the same for around 140 million Russians. Don’t despair!
Usage: Use as a positive affirmation anytime you feel guilty about eating an entire tray of cookies.
Temperature: Anything below freezing.
Are you still sad about winter and ready for flowers, warm days, and birds chirping? There are other Russian proverbs you can use, like this one: Будет зима – будет и лето, “There will be winter — there will be summer.” So keep your chin up: In a few months, it’ll be spring again.
This article was originally published on the German edition of Babbel Magazine.