It is cold in the Netherlands.  In many questions and remarks around me, I hear the word ‘cold’ or related terms.  ‘Is it cold outside?’ is an of-repeated question before people leave the cosines of their home. ‘How cold do you think it will be tomorrow?’ Or: ‘How cold does it feel?’  Now that we have had a few days of frost it would seem, from the way people talk, that the country has shifted a fair bit in the direction of Siberia. In some places the temperature dropped this week below minus 10 Celsius  (14 F). I have not yet been outside this morning, but the Internet tells me that it is currently about minus 5 C.  Is that really cold?

Most thimgs are relative.  How much should it freeze before it is ‘really’ cold? A few days ago I talked with my son in northern Sweden by Skype. I told him that we now at last have some serious wintery weather in Holland. He just laughed. ‘Yesterday night we had minus 32 C’, he said. ‘Now, that is cold!’

Temperatures vary. There is a huge difference between the present cold in the Netherlands and the heat wave in parts of Australia. And we are still far away from the absolute zero point. Scientists tell us, it cannot be colder than zero on the Kelvin scale. That is minus 273 degrees Celsius or minus 459 degrees Fahrenheit.  Fortunately, there are very few places where it will ever be below minus 50 C.  When you fly at about 11.000 feet the outside temperature may be as low as minus 50, but even though the cold air is very close, it is, at the same time, far away.

Cold weather can be annoying. But most of us (in the ‘first’ world, at least) are able to buy the clothes that can keep us warm, and most modern homes have central heating. My son in Sweden can switch on the electric heater in his car without leaving his home, and as a result the inside of the car is pleasantly warm when he is ready to get going.

In the not too distant past, however, things were quire different. Some fifty years ago most homes in the Netherlands only had a stove in the living room. The bedrooms would at times be so cold that your breath would freeze when your head stuck out from under the blankets. A few people would have some electric heaters that would help deter the frost in their bedroom and in the kitchen, but after a serious spell of cold weather much of the house could turn into an ice cellar.

As a child and in my early teens I  lived in a windmill that was used in the sixteenth century for pumping water out of the Schermer lake (about so km’s North of Amsterdam). It was not very comfortable when it was real winter. The nightly excursions to the ‘out-house’ above a narrow canal, some 20 meters away from the mill, was quite an undertaking you wanted to postpone as long as possible, even in summer time—let alone when the temperatures had dropped to below zero. For a number of years I slept in a ‘room’ in the part of the mill that was right above the water, or above the ice! The floor of the ‘room’ consisted of planks without any isolation. Often the wind would howl around the mill and was able to blow through the numerous cracks in the walls. I can remember it very clearly: It was really cold!

But I should not feel too sorry about myself or my family. For it is really cold when you live on the streets, and have to face the winter without finding any shelter—as is the fate of many men and women in many big cities throughout the world. It is really cold when you have no job and you are out of money, and your gas is cut off because you were unable to pay your last bill. And it is really cold when you are a Syrian refugee in a camp in Jordan or Turkey, and must live in a tent without any heating, while it is snowing outside.

For us, a few cold weeks may mean some extra heating expenses, a few weeks without work, or a bent car fender after hitting a pole. However, for many people elsewhere it can be a matter of life or death. There is ample reason to be very thankful when you belong to the ‘rich’ part of the world’s population. Maybe the present spell of cold weather should inspire us to send some money to an organization that assists people who are ‘in the cold’!

[P.S. I am going to send some money to the Red Cross for help to Syrian refugees. What about you?]