Russia has always been popular with its snow. From being a point of defense against invaders to being a hindrance for their own population, snow enjoys a particular place in Russian history and culture. Such is the prevalence of snow that even in the warmer months of the year, this country has a quite cold climate because it lies pretty close to the Arctic Circle. Now, in such terrible weather, one would expect to be inside their homes at all times. However, in the erstwhile Soviet Union, there was a practice in the 1950s and the 1970s where kids in the Soviet Union would often sleep outside.
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This practice continued even when it was winter outside. For the rest of the world, this does seem quite bizarre. So- why was this practice prevalent?
The Connection To The Romanovs
The Tsars in the Russian monarchy were known for being blue-blooded and elitist. When the Romanov family was in power, they rarely ventured out to breathe in the fresh air. Due to this lack of exposure to sunlight and air, the monarchy grew up to have weak immunity. Therefore, the monarchy suffered from ill health throughout their lifetimes. The normal civilians in the country noticed this and ensured that the next generations got ample amount of activity, sunlight, and fresh air.
The Natural Immunity From Being Outdoors
Another reason why kids in the Soviet Union would sleep outside is because of the tuberculosis epidemic that ravaged the country in the 1930s. While the country tried to deal with the epidemic through more conventional methods, it was evident that the fight would only be won through lifestyle changes and everyday hygiene. The researchers and medical practitioners in the country also realized that if they had to stop the resurgence of this epidemic, they would have to make sure that the next generation grew up with stronger lungs and respiratory systems. This is why they started exposing their children to outdoor activities and fresh air.
It Was Applicable For Kids Of All Ages
Kids in the Soviet Union would often sleep outside- which resulted in its prevalence through the decades. And since it was supposed to provide benefits for kids of all ages, children that could not walk were carried in cots outside and then wrapped up in warm blankets so that they could enjoy a nap. But, one wouldn’t be able to gauge the cold that would seep in therefore such semi-open rooms and verandas were heated with firewood stoves. The practice was so popular that people who were born in the 70s and 80s recollect a time when they would go for walks in just underwear and take showers from a freezing hose.
As it stands, most kids did not like this experience. Also, the sleeping bags they found themselves in were quite constricting. Some kids even spoke about how the kindergarten system seemed similar to a labor camp. Incidentally, this practice of sleeping in the cold was something that took place if the temperature was over -10 degrees Celsius. While such a temperature is quite mind-boggling for people all over the world, such temperatures are usually pretty normal in that country.
Testimonies From Soviet Kids Who Experienced It
Naturally, people have certain ideas about why kids in the Soviet Union would often sleep outside. One user called matros_kruzhkin, who spent one year in an anti-tuberculosis sanatorium in 1959-60 stated, “I remember very well these nap times on open verandas, even in winter. Only the nose was left to breathe. In summer, children slept on verandas and terraces. Even in winter, those who were unable to walk were carried outside and tucked warmly in blankets. The rooms were heated with stoves that used firewood.”
Some users, like Duralena, thought that this was necessary- “all our kindergarten group walked outside just in panties, and we were all spruced with water from a hose.” But others, like ‘barbosiara’ didn’t like it. “I will never forget this, this was like a labor camp. In these sleeping bags, you couldn’t move an inch, and I couldn’t stand anything so tight- I used to throw a tantrum immediately, and the damned kindergarten teacher only tucked me in tighter.”
Some users also spoke about how much work it was for nannies to take the kids out. User ‘eliabe_l’ stated, “How much work was that for the nannies! Kids had to be put in sleeping bags, then carried out onto the terrace, where the windows were open wide. After nap hour, all had to be carried back inside. And it was a common kindergarten, not an elite institution. Every morning, all children were examined by a doctor, and if somebody had a cold, they were sent home.”
Olk, another user mentioned how people had been sleeping out in the open, irrespective of the winter. “I do remember how at day nursery after lunch, we all were put in quilt ‘envelopes’ and taken outside to sleep. We slept on some very wide tables. I liked to lay there and watch the maple leaves fall in winter, or titmice jumping on the bare branches in winter. And always near us, a nanny was sitting, clad in an overcoat and cupping her frozen fingers, looking at us from time to time from under her brows. I quickly shut my eyes tight and pretended to sleep.”