Am I blue that there will be no white Christmas this year where I live?

Dec 18th, 2012 | By | Category: In Brief

A woman shields herself from the rain while walking across a snow-lined street in Toronto December 9, 2009. Darren Calabrese, Canadian Press.

Weather forecasters are not always right, of course. But I am prepared to concede that they probably know more about the weather than I do.

And so I took it seriously when I heard yesterday morning that “Waking up to a winter wonderland on Christmas Day will be more of a dream than reality for many parts of the country, cautions Canada’s top federal weather man …  the reality is that only about a quarter of the population will have that wish come true – especially if you live in Alberta, Saskatchewan or Manitoba.”

Alas I live in Toronto – the city with the heart of a loan shark that people who live in Alberta, Saskatchewan or Manitoba still seem to love to hate. (Almost as much as the people who live in other parts of Southern Ontario, where the “Big Smoke” is even more despised.) My situation is apparently summed up in a headline from the nearby Waterloo region, “Dreaming of a white Christmas? You might keep dreaming.”

If it is this bad in many parts of (traditionally) ice cold Canada, those other northern North Americans in nearby regions of the USA are not likely to fare much better. Eg : “Saturday’s combination of rain and warm temperatures ate up much of Central Wisconsin’s snow base this weekend.  And … the possibility of the region missing a so-called ‘white’” Christmas has come top of mind for many …” A little closer to us here in Toronto, in Canton, Ohio: “Christmas Day 2012 may be merry, but if we’re dreaming of a white next week, odds are never in our favor.”

These last observations can also draw attention to the ancient truth that many parts of the United States have never had snow on the ground at Christmas. And in the past generation, as population has moved out of the north and east and into the south and west, the “green Christmas” zone, so to speak, has become much more significant demographically than it used to be.

In 1940, when Irving Berlin is said to have written his now classic pop song, “White Christmas,” New York was the most populous state of the American union, followed by Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Ohio – all places where snow on the ground on December 25 was the typical condition. By 2010 the four most populous US states were California, Texas, New York, and Florida – only one of which has historically expected snow on December 25.

Christmas and climate change ????

Toronto, early morning, several days before Christmas, 2008 (perhaps December 19?) – “For the first time since 1971, from coast to coast, all major cities in Canada appear to be on their way to experiencing a white Christmas this year.”

Like Toronto and Southern Ontario, even New York, city and state, are apparently changing nowadays, as we seem to approach some kind of new climatic paradigm, where northern North American winters are not quite so severe. Even in New York or Toronto or Wisconsin (or even Montreal?) you can no longer take some kind of white Christmas for granted.

This does not appear to mean that we up here are moving towards the  condition of California down there – where, according to the seldom performed verse of his classic song. Irving Berlin actually wrote White Christmas. (“The sun is shining, the grass is green,/ The orange and palm trees sway. / There’s never been such a day / in Beverly Hills, L.A. / But it’s December the twenty-fourth,– / And I am longing to be up North” And then the now oh-so-famous chorus begins: “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas / Just like the ones I used to know …”)

In fact, we had a very white Christmas here in Toronto just four years ago – brought on by a fierce snowstorm several days before. At my age I don’t quite remember these things as well as I used to. My immediate source is something I stumbled across on the net, called “Canada has white Christmas,” and published on Thursday December 25, 2008, in the Toronto Star.

As the Star explained back then: “Dreams of a white Christmas became a reality today pretty well across Canada … Environment Canada had been predicting the first cross-country white Christmas since 1971 after several storms battered most of Canada in the week leading up to the holiday.” (I am also pleased to note that I do have some private record of the event. In my day book for 2008 I see that I have succinctly scribbled in the space for Friday, December 19: “What a snowstorm.” Even if the current memory of the day in my brain cells is vague at best.)

In 2010 a December 26 blizzard brought Staten Island, New York to its knees. For “I’ll take Manhattan / and Staten Island too,” this Christmas 2012, “there's about a 20 percent chance there would be at least an inch of snow on the ground, according to the National Climatic Data Center.” Photo by Bill Lyons.

I see from the net as well that even last year, here in Toronto, we did have “just barely enough snow to cover the grass.” (But in this case all I seem to have about weather in my private day book for the later part of 2011 is a notation for Wednesday, November 30 that reads : “First snowfall – tho rather wet.”)

At the same time again, I have just stumbled across an online article from south of the border, in the vast New York metropolis. It reports : “A White Christmas on Staten Island in 2012? 20 percent chance, experts say.” Scrolling further down the page I also see that : “Two years ago Christmas on Staten Island was clear as a bell. The next day a blizzard arrived and when it departed on the 27th it left 23 inches of snow behind. It was definitely a white New Year.”)

Christmas and the new demographic diversity in North America

People are seen enjoying the sun and good weather at the Nathan Philips Square rink on Dec. 25, 2008. CARLOS OSORIO/TORONTO STAR.

There is another inevitable wrinkle to all northern North American speculations of this sort in the early 21st century – at least in cities like Toronto or Vancouver or Montreal or Calgary in Canada, and certainly New York or Chicago and similar metropolitan areas in the United States.

In December 2012 the demography of such places is considerably more culturally diverse than it was when Irving Berlin wrote White Christmas, down in southern California, in 1940. Or, put another way, more and more people who live where I live are not from Christian backgrounds – and really have no, so to speak, proper excuse for celebrating Christmas at all.

Cynthia of Cynful’s ancestral home in Toronto, Christmas Day 2011, when there was “ just barely enough snow to cover the grass.”

(And I say this advisedly even in my own case. I am from a Christian background, no doubt. But I have not been a practising “Christian” since my mid teens. And I remember some time ago now, when a hospital worker trying to decide where to place my father in his final days asked him what his religion was. He replied : “Well I celebrate Christmas.” And I can testify myself that this was as close to an organized religion as he came in any time I ever knew him.)

Out of respect for the Jewish friends I grew up with in my particular old city neighbourhoods, I have always tried to prefer “Season’s Greetings” to ”Merry Christmas.” But this seems increasingly lame nowadays, when a journey on the Toronto subway system makes it clear that, along with people from Christian and Jewish backgrounds, the city I live in now includes many Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Shinto followers, Sikhs, whatever religion it may or may not be reasonable to say people with Chinese and some other East Asian backgrounds follow (Confucianism?), and, for all I know a great many other creeds and/or sub-creeds, etc, etc, etc, etc, world without end.

Two prospects seem to flow from all this. And insofar as I feel in any position to judge such things, it often appears to me that both are in play where I live at the moment.

The first is what might be tentatively described as a broad diminution in the importance of Christmas as a widely shared public holiday in the community at large. Some of this is going on, I feel, and it does reduce the importance of a “White Christmas” as well.

Snow in Bracebridge, quite a bit north of Toronto, on November 17, 2011. Courtesy of: CityNews viewer Joe.

On the other hand, there also seems to me what might be called a kind of growing secularization of Christmas in the air I customarily breathe. And it actually appears to be increasing the importance of the holiday, because it is spreading it beyond people from Christian backgrounds.

Christmas in this sense is mostly just a time when families get together and give each other presents. And when I see Toronto cp24 TV personalities like Gurdeep Ahluwalia, Pooja Handa, Rena Heer,  Jee Yun Lee, Farah Nasser, and Karman Wong talking about Christmas lately, I find myself wondering if they don’t somehow celebrate the holiday season themselves – even if they don’t come from any kind of Christian background?

“5 ways to have more sex during holidays”

By way of tipping a concluding hat to this key current Christmas secularization trend where I  live,  I’d just point to two recent articles from the Times of India website, that have nothing to do with Christmas in the first instance, but just may point to broadening holiday horizons, in the wider global village on which the sun never sets.

The first is “Top 10 Bollywood’s hottest scenes of 2012” – and speaks for itself. And just as Hollywood once brought us the Jewish Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, Bollywood may someday brings us a new Christmas anthem, that has nothing to do with snow!

The second article is “5 ways to have more sex during holidays.” And here I’d just quickly note than some fundamentalist Christians in the USA lionize India as the most religious country in the world. They should also remember, I think, that sex has more to do with religion in India than it does in the American heartland. And that is probably a good thing.

Note too that this second article from the Times of India site has in fact been copied from the USA. It tells of “5 ways to make the six super-fast weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s … sexy …   Karen Siff Exhorn has compiled a list that appears in the Huffington Post that details tips on how to have more sex during holidays.”

So … when you put all this together, does it really matter whether northern North America has a White Christmas in 2012? My own conclusion is probably not!

But if  “Canada’s top federal weather man” turns out to be wrong, and we do have a white Christmas in many parts of the true north strong and free this year, that will certainly be OK too.

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