Not Quite Dreaming of a White Christmas
The other day I was out on my patio enjoying the 85-or-so-degree Texas December weather and heard two young children nearby singing "Jingle Bells." I had to wonder if they even had a basic idea what "dashing through the snow" means, much less what it feels like.
Growing up in what's called The Southern Tier of Upstate New York, I had more than my share of white Christmases as a young 'un. A fresh overlay of snow and some bracing cold always seemed to epitomize the spirit of the holidays. Without that it didn't fully feel like Christmas. More often than not the weather delivered.
After all, snow fell and lasted for the better part of four months of the year, and was hardly a surprise when it came even before or after the bulk of winter. One year in my childhood stands out in particular. Nearly three feet had fallen by the time Christmas sunnily dawned. Later my cousin who lived on the next block and I trudged through shining virgin snow as high as our chests to clear the pathway through a friendly neighbor's property from our street to his backyard before we all shared the annual ritual of exchanging gifts between our families.
Another Christmas day was seasonably warm (meaning in the 40s) and clear without any snow on the ground. But as night fell the mercury plummeted and a storm front blew in. The next morning I awoke to the loud thrumming pistons of a snowmobile racing down the street of my residential city neighborhood atop a four-foot blizzard snowfall. Snow was never far off.
Heat and lack of snow seemed to knock Christmas off kilter. One warm Yuletide morning the rising temperatures melted off most all of the snow save a few patches as the thermometer rose above 60. What was usually post-gift unwrapping family time got cut short in the neighborhood as some of the fathers bolted to get in a round of golf. (And hey, it might be as late as April or even May until they'd get that chance again.)
It was almost as if the snow and cold conspired to keep the family unit inside and gathered together in warmth. Even though snow is, for all its first fall loveliness, a major chore and too often pain to deal with, without it Christmas seemed bereft of an essential element.
After my parents relocated to Texas years later, my first holiday visit in 1977 to their new home outside of Granbury was met with a rare three inches of snow on Christmas morning. But it was Texas snow that didn't naturally cohere into a a firmly packed snowball, much less a snowman. And it was largely gone by midday. Similarly, when I moved here to Austin a dozen years later, nearly two inches fell over the holidays. As rare as snow is to those raised hereabouts, it was fitting to have that light dusting on the landscape to make the season truly feel like Christmastime.
By the time my relocation here in late '89, however, the appeal of snow had largely faded. Having grown up where cold and a consistent damp layer of white stuff was as much the natural condition as anything else, I'd learned to utilize the snow and freezing temperatures for fun by sledding, skating, and skiing.
But certain brutal facts of life in the snowbelt became less tolerable: deep puddles of slush in most every pathway, ice that you were bound to slip on and thump onto your rump as well as skid on in a car, toes so chilled they felt amputated or made you wish they were, cheeks whipped raw by frigid winds... I could go on... and on. For every joyful memory of romping about and diving into snowdrifts a dozen or so feet high like a frolicking polar bear – of course after first donning longjohns underneath the standard thick warm clothes and a full body snowsuit plus gloves with wool liners and boots with moisture-proof inners atop it all – there was the drudgery of shoveling pounds upon pounds upon more pounds of the stuff just to get out of the house and to clear a path between the car and the street.
A signal moment of my new winter in Texas sans snow and its glorious benefits was a sunny January day in the late '90s when it almost reached a sweaty 90 degrees as my pal Jack and I biked on the trail around (what was then simply called) Town Lake. But by a decade or so later snow and cold had been imbued with a certain romance by the fickle powers of reminiscence.
During a visit to Toronto in late November six years ago, I blissfully walked along an avenue as snow drifted down, my leather jacket and fleece vest unzipped and open, feeling invigorated by the chilly breeze against my face and body. "Aren't you cold?" asked my Canadian friend I was visiting, bundled up in her full-length puffy parka, looking like the Michelin woman.
"No." More accurately, the weather was cold but it felt good after so long without it. And there were a number of moments during the record-setting and soul-blistering heat wave of the summer before last when I conjured up virtual hillocks of fluffy cold white stuff in my imagination.
Snow, for all its challenges, does have an undeniable allure. My oldest brother became a snowbird gone to Texas when he entered SMU law school in the late 1960s and settled in the Dallas area. He chose to retire northward a few years ago to a mountainside home in Montana. After exchanging presents and sharing a big extended family meal Christmas morning, he and his now-grown kids and grandkids will step out of the house, strap on skis, and glide out and down on the slopes.
When I finally admit I'm in my senior years, I envision migrating towards a more tropical climate. Yet as I lay down my head tonight, rather than visions of sugar-plums dancing, I'll envision a symphony of heavily falling snow, swirling in the wind and glistening in the moonlight. And recall how waking underneath a blanket of it invoked the mythical magic of Christmas.
It won't be a wish. I'm happy to awake to no snow.
But as the temperature dips below freezing as predicted tomorrow night, when I step out from the home on a hill just southeast of town where I enjoy an annual orphan holiday dinner, and feel that bracing chill on the flesh of my face, it will bring just enough of a flash of wintertime to complete the scene. And make the food, fellowship and merriment seem like Christmas indeed.
Snowy street photo by Kaitlin Marie via Flickr.