Reflections on a White Christmas

Whenever I told anyone back home in Oz that we were coming to Canada for Christmas, they all said the same thing.  “Wow, you’ll have a white Christmas!”  I didn’t exactly say “Bah, humbug”, but I did perhaps say “well, maybe – if it doesn’t rain.  And besides, even if it does snow, it’ll probably be gone by Christmas day.”

So, why do we have this crazy fascination with snow, and why is it even more important at Christmas?  I’ve surveyed some random Canadians in an attempt to unravel the mystery. Here’s the top five ranked answers.

Number five – anticipation – will it snow?  I guess this isn’t such a big deal in places like Edmonton, where a maximum of minus 25C is considered a heat wave, but here in Vancouver, snow in winter is by no means assured.  It seems that there has been just one topic of conversation for the past two weeks – “It’s cold eh?  Might get some snow in a bit.”  Of course, there’s always one or two old timers who chime in with “You call this cold?  Back when I was trapping fur in the Yukon, we used to swim under the ice to ….”

Number four – shopping – will I get a park?  (and – will I get home again?)  Unless you live under a rock, you will have experienced the excitement of pre-Christmas shopping at least once in your life.  And, before you can even get near the shops to grab that last-minute gift for you-know-who, you must fight the good fight for a parking space.  Unfortunately, the “goodwill to all men” bit seems to be forgotten as three circling vehicles race towards any recently vacated spot.  The good news is, when you add a healthy dose of snow and ice to the mix, the skilful driver can spin and slide their minivan between their rivals like a hockey puck fired by a left winger.

Number three – Christmas lights.  All Aussies know that the best way to finish a pleasant summer barbeque is to bundle the kids into the car to “go and see some lights.”   It always amazes me just how much effort some dedicated people put into their spectacular displays.  Lights flash, trains chug and music plays.  All they need to make it perfect is – real snow.  As I’ve now found, there’s nothing like crunching along a snowy sidewalk on a minus 6C night, carrying a shivering four-year-old, to make you truly enjoy the Christmas light experience.  But, those lights really do look so much better when all the world is white.

Number two – it’s just so darn pretty.  I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that snow falls on, well, everything.  Since much of my previous experience was based on painted Christmas card scenes, I sort of assumed that the snow only fell on idyllic country cottages with horse-drawn sleighs trotting past on cue.  What’s truly surprising is how even a light fall of snow can make the most mundane urbane area look, more, well – more.  Sure, people grumble a bit about shovelling the stuff off their driveways and paths, but I know that, when they’re done, they secretly pause to snap that sneaky little pic for Instagram.

Number one – you get to wear that crazy sweater.  As I may have mentioned, Christmas in Australia is hot.  So hot in fact, that kids playing under sprinklers and the Christmas afternoon snooze in the shade are almost enshrined in law.  So, we don’t get to participate in the Christmas tradition of ugly sweaters – ever.   Our northern cousins, however, have turned this unusual apparel into an art form.   This is, of course, especially good news for that relative who spends time each year crafting special Christmas clobber for all the family.  Too big?  No problem.  Bright red with green elf wings?  Fantastic!

So, here we are.  It’s Christmas day.  Outside, everything is covered by fresh white dusty snow, and the air’s full of little icy flakes drifting on the breeze.   As I write this, I’m looking out the window at a little hummingbird sitting in the bare branches of a nearby tree.  It seems to be watching the falling snowflakes, trying to judge the perfect time for a dash back to the feeder on the back porch.  Ok, a snowy Christmas can be sort of special.

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