You probably read about the Swedish man who, somehow, survived two months in a car entombed in snow. No one seems to understand how he did it. One doctor said the iced car must have acted like an igloo. Another suggested that the man's behaviour, and survival, was a "bit like a bear that hibernates". It's a nice idea, though not one that seems to be based wholly in science. Humans aren't known for their ability to live without food at freezing temperatures for weeks on end without falling into a coma and dying. The notion that we could bundle up, fattened by Christmas, and sleep for a month is tempting but a little unrealistic.

Saying that, an article in the British Medical Journal first published in 1900 described how Russian "peasants" spent half the year asleep, a practice called the "lotska". "At the first fall of snow the whole family gathers round the stove, lies down, ceases to wrestle with the problems of human existence, and quietly goes to sleep. Once a day every one wakes up to eat a piece of hard bread . . ." Then, after six months of such excitement, the family "wakes up, shakes itself, goes out to see if the grass is growing and by-and-by sets to work at summer tasks." The author has a madly sunny view of things, I suspect. Judging by the state in which the poor Swedish man was found (emaciated and barely conscious), I can't believe the Russians leapt so cheerily to their feet.

Still, there's something in it. Not the prolonged act of impoverished, frozen hardship - but the idea of hibernation as a sort of shutting down. The word comes from the Latin, hibernationem, meaning "the action of passing the winter". We understand it as a specific type of animal behaviour, but if you go back to that original definition, it's just a way of getting through, a non-specified process of surviving these cold, dark months. Everyone has their own method: usually some combination of eating and heating, lucky as we are not being Russian peasants. We can't physically hibernate like dormice, but we can take some tips: stay still, stay warm, stay quiet. And celebrate the opportunity that winter gives to hide a little from the world. Before you know, it will be opening up again, all noisy and bright.

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 27 February 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The God Wars