When winter rolls around, most of us simply curl up in front of the wood stove or fireplace, or even turn on our electric blankets, but what would you do if those things were suddenly gone?
If the worst-case scenario occurred, would you know the ways that our ancestors stayed warm during winter? During those times, we might not be able to have a fireplace or a cozy home to sit out the winter months. So this might be a good time to familiarize yourself with the old-fashioned ways people have used to stay warm when they were outside.
My mother, during the depression, often took a hot baked potato to school, worn inside her coat. This helped keep her warm on her wintery walks to school.
Other warming items, which are easily heated in a stove or in a pot of boiling water, would be hot water bottles, rocks, bricks, flat stones, potatoes and even shoes or underwear! My mother often said that, before she got dressed, she put her underwear and shoes right next to the wood burning stove on a cold, icy morning.
Dressing in layers — but not the types of layers you and I use — was perhaps one of the best ways our ancestors stayed warm. They weren’t too picky about what it was, either. Layers of items create air pockets which keep heat in and cold out. Today, we have a great selection of fibers to choose from, so we can put on a couple pair of silk undergarments and a synthetic coat.
Before these materials were invented, however, some of our ancestors knew how to do what my grandmother called “crazy layers.” This means wool long John’s or undershirts and leggings, perhaps several pair. If you had them, you wore multiple pairs of pants or several petticoats (or slips). Stories in my family say that my great-grandfather only had two pairs of pants, so he would put them on, stuff the hems into his socks and boots, and then he stuffed chicken feathers in between the pants for insulation!
Most women wore several layers of clothing, a couple of scarves and hats, along with fur-lined gloves. It was not uncommon to see women wearing blankets tied about their neck or across the shoulders. This left their arms free to work, but helped to keep them warm.
Even More Unusual Ways to Stay Warm
Of course, we all want to believe that the truly desperate fights for survival are behind us. However, since none of us can foresee the future, we should at least be aware of some of the extreme, or at least unusual, ways that our ancestors stayed warm when dire circumstances were more common.
Sleeping next to or under animals is a good way to stay warm if need be. Yes, it’s true that sleeping under a cow or next to a couple of goats or sheep might not smell great and might not be all that comfortable, but it will surely beat freezing to death.
Also, in a pinch, you can use some of nature’s own insulating materials, such as leaves, hay, feathers, hair (such as horse hair), straw, dried grass and even pine boughs to insulate your clothing, make a shelter and provide a dry floor for bedding.
Let’s not forget that there are other things to burn besides wood. If you want a fire but can’t find wood, remember that you can burn most dried animal manure (cow, horse and buffalo “chips” are great for this), as well as bird nests, straw, hay, charcoal (partially burned wood), paper, cloth, tires and leaves.
I don’t know about you, but after thinking about burning cow patties to stay warm, I am really grateful for my wood burning stove and electric blanket right now!
Do you know of other ways our ancestors stayed warm during winter? Share your thoughts in the section below: