A White Christmas in the UK – Don’t Laugh – it’s Snow Joke!

Well, you may laugh twice actually. First of all, White Christmases are not common in most areas of the United Kingdom. Secondly, if you fancy a bet, late on Christmas Eve, when the ground around is covered in snow and your car buried, you are unlikely to win if there is no thaw, but no new snowflake actually falls during the twenty-four hours of Christmas Day. So what is a White Christmas? It can be white all around, but not officially ‘White’; or it can be green all around and officially ‘White’ with one snowflake. Still laughing?

Images of Christmas

Many of us would love to wake up on Christmas morning and open the curtains to see a sunlit, sparkling layer of virgin snow under a blue sky. Snow is acceptable on Christmas Day to the vast majority – no work, no traffic, just a gentle walk, a few snowballs and a snowman, then back inside to the warm. Let’s examine this popular image of a White Christmas, how it came into our mythology, and perhaps whom we should blame or praise. We simply believe that we should have white Christmases. This is reinforced every year by images on Christmas cards, Christmas cakes, press and television advertisements, postage stamps, wrapping paper and by bookmakers, gamblers and weather pundits. A check of last year’s Christmas cards to our household pictures our collective obsession, or yearning, very clearly. Eighty percent of the cards included some image of snow, either as snowflakes, a white blanket on the ground, on the branches of trees, or falling, very gently of course. Oddly, not a single religious card or nativity scene included snow.

Origins of our Love Affair with Snow at ChristmasSo, let us look at UK weather history to seek the source of our perceptions, which seem to have grown from the early fifteenth century, well into Queen Victoria’s reign. During this period, Britain’s winters were often long and hard. The River Thames froze over more than twenty times. As late as 1814, the Thames in London hosted its last Frost Fair, when an elephant was apparently led across the ice near Blackfriars Bridge. In 1841, Prince Albert introduced the Christmas tree and in 1843, the first Christmas cards appeared. However, if we need someone to blame, or applaud, for White Christmases, we need probably look no further than Charles Dickens, who published ‘A Christmas Carol’ in December 1843. Victorians embraced his book, from its chilling start to its heartwarming end, and probably changed perceptions and images of Christmas forever. The British had become used to the White Christmas, so white it had to stay.

How Much Snow Makes a White Christmas?Part of the Magic of ChristmasIt seems that Irving Berlin and Bing Crosby’s ‘White Christmas’ touches a chord with millions across the world, even those who celebrate Christmas in the summer of the southern hemisphere. So don’t just have a laugh or two about the crazy criteria for a White Christmas, or the futility of our longings as global warming threatens. Instead, have a smile or two in the belief that Christmases will always be white whatever the weather and despite global warming – it’s part of the magic.

What is an ‘Official’ White Christmas?

According to the Met Office Website, Christmas falls at what tends to be the beginning of colder periods of UK winters, typically January and February. Much of December can be cool, grey and damp. The site also records that the last official UK White Christmas was in 2004, with snow in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Midlands, northeast and southwest England. So what is an ‘official’ White Christmas? Simple. It becomes official when a single snowflake is seen falling during the 24 hours of December 25th. At one time, this single snowflake apparently had to fall on the Air Ministry roof in London, but this now appears to be one Christmas tradition that has changed. Snowflakes have now been regionalised. Official results, snow or no snow, are now likely to come from Buckingham Palace, Albert Dock in Liverpool, Aberdeen Football Club ground, Glasgow Cathedral, Edinburgh Castle, The Met Office in Exeter, Granada Studios in Manchester, Birmingham’s Bullring, The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Belfast’s Aldergrove Airport and Elland Road, Leeds. It almost makes you feel sorry for all those people, probably paid double-time, to sit outside in shifts for the twenty four hours of Christmas Day, torch and blanket at the ready, waiting, unblinking, for a single flake, then producing proof of its existence if one appears.

May All Your Christmases be White

It seems that Irving Berlin and Bing Crosby’s ‘White Christmas’ touches a chord with millions across the world, even those who celebrate Christmas in the summer of the southern hemisphere. So don’t simply laugh about the crazy criteria for a White Christmas, or the futility of our longings as global warming threatens. Instead, have a smile or two in the belief that Christmases will always be white – it’s part of the magic.

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