Those who follow me on Facebook & Twitter know by now that one of my major gripes is that we have tied our holidays to particular dates, and that our climate no longer accommodates the aesthetic often associated with them. This isn’t going to be a tirate on Global Warming or if it’s actually a thing or not (it is), but more of me generally complaining about how “White Christmas” is not nor will it ever be a thing for the majority of the country so long as the holiday falls on December 25th.
There are many different ways to view December’s relationship with winter weather & Christmas-time, but the one thing everybody can agree on is that snow on or before Christmas Day is almost universally expected & nearly 0% fulfilled.
As a resident of central Illinois, I can only vaguely recall one or two Christmases that featured snow on the ground, much less a snowy scene out the window on Christmas Eve. Most people around here can tell you gloomily of how they spent their Christmas mornings waking up to either uncharacteristically warm days, simple typical chilly grey skies, unpleasant frozen rain, or even storms (December recently has seen some tornadoes, even).
We’ve dug ourselves into this mess, unfortunately, and it’s namely the fault of Charles Dickens & the movie industry.
For about 300-500 years, depending on which website you read, there was a period of time known as The Little Ice Age:
During the Little Ice Age, temperatures were typically 1-2°C below normal. This may not sound like much, but it was enough to make winters in the Northern Hemisphere (especially in Europe and North America) more severe and long-lived. Snowfall was heavier, much more frequent, and slower to melt. Springs and summers were also reportedly cool and wet.
Charles Dickens grew up in the waning stages of this era, and his childhood was one that only Christmas-loving kids can dream of:
Six of Dickens’s first nine Christmases were white, including one in the winter of 1813-14 during which the ice on the River Thames was thick enough to bear the weight of an elephant. His novel A Christmas Carol is credited with establishing the Victorian genre of the Christmas story, and spurring a revival of the celebration of Christmas in early Victorian England. Experts believe Dickens’ childhood in the 1810s, which coincided with the coldest decade in Britain since the 1690s, may have introduced snowy weather into the image of an ideal Christmas.
“A Christmas Carol” is the essential tale of the holiday, and in any traditional interpretation of the story ever seen you’ll observe snow being featured prominently enough to almost be considered an essential character: Piled up in window sills and along streets, visible in almost every Scrooge memory of Christmases past, and beautifully spread throughout the town on the Christmas morning of Scrooge’s redemption.
The other essential work of “A Visit From St. Nicholas” was too written in the 19th century, smack in the latter stages of “The Little Ice Age,” and describes in memorable fashion freshly fallen snow to set the scene of Santa’s most famous story.
The list goes on and on and on. Whether it’s Bing Crosby dreaming of a White Christmas, Walking in a Winter Wonderland, etc. Farmer’s Almanac, which predicted 2016’s winter to be a snowy one (rain and ice currently, and nothing but rain and ice for weeks to come, Farmers), had a bit of further insight into this phenomenon:
Essentially there is no real solution to this problem besides going north or very far south. If you’re fortunate enough to have a few reasons to visit Canada or parts of North Dakota, Minnesota, etc, maybe you will indeed geographically deposit yourself into a snowy holiday season. Otherwise, like most Americans, your romantic Christmas snowfall will be limited to the work of movie directors, authors, and your own idle imagination as you stare despondently out the window at the slushy rain pattering on the sidewalks.
It shouldn’t bum anyone out though, truly. We’ve long since known that snow during Christmas time is generally a rare bit of magic that seems trapped in our childhood memories or “that one time” when you were old enough to clearly recall & capture those rare December snows.
It’s been extremely difficult getting into the seasonal spirit this year. My family and some close friends have endured a lot over the last 12 months, and between funerals, torrents of bad news, and the election, my social circle radiates exhaustion. Everyone in my family is doing the best they can, myself included, to trot out the festivities just like always, but personally there’s something simply too amiss. The overarching theme of 2016 has been tragedy, gloom, and worry for the future, so putting on a happy face feels heavier a task than normal.
I have no interest in doing a big Christmas tree this year. For many years I’ve wanted to simply take a Christmas off – no presents, no tree, no music, no decorations, no songs. I wanted to take a Christmas off so that the next one would seem that much more vibrant. I would miss it. But each year I can’t help myself, and this year my compromise is to simply put up a tiny tree instead of the full blown real deal.
It’s our last year in this apartment, so maybe next Christmas in a new residence I’ll go all-out with decorating to compensate for this year, but for now? Frankly 2016 has been exceptionally miserable, and the December forecast blasting me with nothing but cold wind and slushy rain further cements that this year’s Christmas simply doesn’t deserve it.
That said, I’ve got hope.
The old tradition of throwing a Yule Log upon the fire is elemental, human, and comforting:
Our Fore-Fathers, when the common Devious of Eve were over, and Night was come on, were wont to light up candles of an uncommon Size, which were called Christmas-Candles, and to lay a Log of Wood upon the Fire, which they termed a Yule-Clog, or Christmas-Block. These were to Illuminate the House, and turn the Night into Day. – Henry Bourne
Rooted in ancient pagan myth, something as simple as throwing a mighty log onto the fire can mean so much more. Winter has long stood as a period of endurance, survival, and darkness, and the significance of keeping the fire burning is something we can all relate to after this hard year. The difficulty won’t cease in coming months, but by keeping the fire burning inside we can endure and find the sun again.
If ‘keeping the fire burning’ for you means being surrounded by family, seeing smiles on the faces of strangers, or even humming a holiday tune, don’t cease to nourish the flames.
As for me, I can’t quite tell what will fuel the fire, and while the chill outside grows more frosty by the day, the coals within are red. Just need the right breeze to blow through my hair.
Preferably a breeze laden with a few snowflakes.