Experiments with the atmospheric component of the ECMWF Integrated Forecasting System (IFS) have been carried out to study the origin of the atmospheric circulation anomalies that led to the unusually cold European winter of 2005/06. Experiments with prescribed sea surface temperature (SST) and sea ice fields fail to reproduce the observed atmospheric circulation anomalies suggesting that the role of SST and sea ice was either not very important or the atmospheric response to SST and sea ice was not very well captured by the ECMWF model. Additional experiments are carried out in which certain regions of the atmosphere are relaxed toward analysis data thereby artificially suppressing the development of forecast error. The relaxation experiments suggest that both tropospheric circulation anomalies in the Euro–Atlantic region and the anomalously weak stratospheric polar vortex can be explained by tropical circulation anomalies. Separate relaxation experiments for the tropical stratosphere and tropical troposphere highlight the role of the easterly phase of quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO) and, most importantly, tropospheric circulation anomalies, especially over South America and the tropical Atlantic. From the results presented in this study, it is argued that the relaxation technique is a powerful diagnostic tool to understand possible remote origins of seasonal-mean anomalies.