Memories of December Snow - Part II
As I type, much of northern and western UK is covered in a deep coating of snow, like the crisp icing on the Christmas cake we’ve still barely started. Houses are looking at their idyllic best, and the fields and woodlands look like the festive greetings cards we have on our shelves downstairs. Children are having snowball fights, sales of sledges have gone through the roof, and snowmen have started congregating in the gardens and parks.
I know this only from the news: we have not been as lucky here in the East of England, and the view out of the window in front of me is one of damp, grey fogginess. Though at least it has stopped raining. We had severe flooding across the country around Christmas, and there is more on its way. This is not the weather we normally associate with the festive season.
I long for more snow, and it saddens me that these White Christmases may be coming to an end. In a recent BBC Panorama episode, experts from the Met Office discussed the possibility of snowfall becoming increasing rare in the UK throughout the coming century, with December snowfall unlikely to settle in England in 60 years’ time. While the climate and weather are notoriously unpredictable, it is certainly true that our winters have been becoming progressively less ‘white’ in the recent past. Is there a risk that future generations will cease to connect Christmas and snow at all?
Of course, does Christmas even need to be snowy? The vast majority of people on this planet experience a Christmas entirely devoid of snow – including Jesus’s own birthplace – and for the whole of the southern hemisphere, Christmas falls just days after midsummer, where festive gatherings often take place outside under the summer sun, and the Christmas dinner may be cooked on a barbeque.
The values and connotations we most celebrate in the depths of winter all seem intensified with freezing cold pressing against the window panes.
So why do I feel so strongly that there should be snow in December in the UK? It is about more than just tradition: the values and connotations we most celebrate in the depths of winter – community and family, hospitality and charity, comfort and cosiness – all seem intensified with freezing cold pressing against the window panes, making the warmth of inside seem even more appealing, while the novelty of snow brings a sense of childishness and fun to the season.
Snow formed the backdrop – and indeed excuse – for one of my most treasured childhood memories.
I grew up in a house in the middle of nowhere, roughly halfway between two small villages in the Suffolk countryside, on a road that had a different name depending which of the two villages you were currently travelling towards. I was therefore fortunate that one of my closest friends lived only about 3 miles away, just outside of a different village. From my bedroom window I could see the water tower that loomed over his house.
So when, after staying at mine one night in the winter of 2000/1, we woke to find a deep drifts of snow banked-up against the walls and blocking that unnamed road to my house, we decided we would walk to his house ‘as the crow flies’, in a straight line across the snow-covered fields, frozen woodlands and eerily silent roads. After a quick phone call between our mothers explaining the plan, we set off on our own, my mother waving us off from our front door, the other anticipating our arrival at the other.
The walk probably should have taken about 40 minutes, but we must have spent hours exploring the quiet countryside between our houses. We were diverted off-course tracking the hoof prints of a roe deer herd into a distant grove, and made a nuisance of ourselves by freeing a cage of red-legged partridges destined for the shooting later in the month. We fashioned fallen branches into walking sticks (and probably called them staffs) and threw snowballs at each other (probably pretending they were grenades). When we came to the main road, only a few faint tyre marks broke the otherwise clean, smooth sheet of snow.
We arrived, finally, at my friend’s house, wet and shivering but euphoric. We were quickly ushered towards the roaring fireplace and consumed mug after mug of scalding hot chocolate. I spend the night there, wrapped-up warm, making plans for more snowy activities in the morning.
The next day I was collected by my mother: overnight, the snow had turned to a light drizzle, the main road droning with commuter traffic, and the crisp white fields we had crossed the day before had become impassable muddy marshland.
2020 has been a difficult year for everyone. Whether the year has affected our health, our family life, or our careers, it has impacted our lives in many ways, many of them unpleasant. However, there have been unexpected silver-linings.
So, regardless of your opinion on snow (and I know there are strong opinions on both sides) it is worth celebrating what has – for many of us – felt like a particularly ‘seasonal’ year.
When we began writing this blog a little over a year ago, we were commuting for two hours every day for our day jobs, working long hours in a large, open-plan office, with little access to natural light. Our goal of writing blog posts that celebrated our love of nature, craft and food seemed in direct competition with our day-to-day working lives: an act of defiance.
We couldn’t have predicted that within five months we would be permanently working-from-home for the foreseeable future. This has given us the ability of see the year close-up. So, regardless of your opinion on snow (and I know there are strong opinions on both sides) it is worth celebrating what has – for many of us – felt like a particularly ‘seasonal’ year. A mild, transitional Spring, a blisteringly hot Summer, a colourful and fruitful Autumn, and now this: a snowy Winter.