Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Brown Christmas

Took the dogs on a solstice walk in the rain yesterday afternoon, and thought of Robert Frost stopping to watch his neighbor's woods fill up with snow on a very different solstice eve.  Instead, my snow was going up in smoke.  I'm afraid we're in for another brown Christmas this year.

I told myself that this heat wave was giving the field mice and the foxes and the deer and the birds who had survived the -18F temperatures a couple of nights ago a chance to recover before the next onslaught.  But I hated to see the snow go.

Where does this obsession with a white Christmas come from, anyway?   Certainly not from Palestine, where December temperatures hover in the 40s and 50s.  It must be solstice-related, like everything else this season.   It makes sense that the winter solstice and the birth of the sun god are felt more keenly by those in the dark, snow-covered regions close to the pole.

Still it's odd that the association of Christmas with snow should have migrated southward, and stuck so firmly.  My childhood Christmases in Barcelona were snow-free, and the popular culture had not yet been transformed by sleigh-riding, ho-ho-hoing invaders.  But the German nuns who were my teachers decorated the classroom with Advent calendars whose little windows were adorned  with pillowy drifts of snow.  And we sang O Tannenbaum in our Spanish-accented German, praising the tree whose green endures even im Winter, wenn es schneit.

But the snow thing wasn't just a phenomenon of my German school.  There was snow in our apartment as well.  Two weeks before Christmas my parents used to set up an enormous Nativity scene.  It went far beyond the stable, and included mountains made of cork, meadows made of moss, trees made of twigs, and a pond made from a mirror.  Over winding, sandy paths a procession of Magi on camels and shepherds on foot, accompanied by cows with calves, goats with kids, ducks with ducklings, and hens with chicks, made its way towards the stable, over which an angel proclaimed his annual Gloria in excelsis.

My father, who though city-born and -bred was reputed to have an especially poetic feel for Nature, was the principal architect of this landscape.  I didn't pay much attention to the creation of the mountains and the meadows, being more interested in the critters and in the tiny, pink Baby Jesus.

But I do remember, when all of first-century Palestine was finally in place in our living room, my father carefully sprinkling a handful of white flour over the cork mountains--the snow without which it wouldn't have really been Christmas, and for which I have since longed every brown Christmas of my life.

6 comments :

  1. It is not quite brown here in Nashville. The leaves clinging to branches are brown (there are a few, even on the Maples), but the grass is mainly green. And the trees are grey, except for the remaining leaves. (The pines are further south and the Spruce and Hemlocks are in the mountains to the East. The Hemlocks and Fraser Firs are a sad story.) I wish for a snow, but we get one maybe every 10 years.

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    1. Nashville, Vermont--before long, we won't be able to tell the difference!

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  2. It never feels quite like Christmas here in the tropics, with Santa riding in on a canoe and wearing board shorts, but even here in Hawaii we long for a white Christmas and someone usually rents a snow machine to blow white particles for children who prefer sleds to surfboards.

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  3. This is exactly what I was talking about!
    BTW, we're having a white-ish Christmas in VT. The heat wave didn't quite melt all the snow and now we're back to below-zero nights, so some white has been preserved. Happy Christmas, Rosemary!

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