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"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer


The Occasional Muse
My humble opinion on current events

December 24,  2002

Still Dreaming of a White Christmas

I'm a desert rat. I've known no other home than the desert metropolis of Phoenix. Needless to say, I haven't seen much snow, and I've never experienced a white Christmas.

In fact, I've witnessed snow falling to the ground from the sky just twice in my 30 years on this planet. The first time was in Fon du Lac, Wisconsin, in November 1989. I was a senior in a Lutheran high school and participating in a choral fest with several other school choirs. Our choir spent a weekend in lovely Fon du Lac, and it snowed our first night there. It was a gentle snow, no wind, quiet and peaceful. It was enchanting.

The second time I saw snow falling to the ground from the sky was, oddly enough, in Phoenix. It was the early 1990s, I forget the exact date. I worked at a movie theater about a mile from home. All that day, it was freezing cold, and the sky was a solid gray slate of thick clouds. It started snowing soon after the sun set. I remember driving home from the theater through the gentle storm, windshield wipers flicking away tiny snowflakes, in a state of wonder. One expects snow in Wisconsin, but not the Sonoran Desert.

Those two experiences started my minor fascination with snow. Nothing is prettier than a pine forest right after a snow storm, with the ground covered in a blanket of white and pine needles bowed under the weight of tiny snow drifts. I've often imagined living in a cabin in the woods, with a roaring fire and icicles hanging from the eaves.

That's why, for the past several years, I've hoped and dreamed for a white Christmas, or at least a snowstorm sometime during the winter.

Hoping for snow in Phoenix isn't as far-fetched as it seems. The Arizona Republic reported this morning that it's snowed three times in Phoenix on Christmas Day, in 1911, 1916, and 1974, when I was two years old. So it's happened in my lifetime - why couldn't it happen again? There was a good chance just yesterday, in fact. The whole day was cloudy and cold, with drizzling rain. But just as night fell, and the temperature inched down into the 30s, the storm cleared. So close!

My wife doesn't quite understand my fixation on snow at Christmas. She spent much of her childhood in upper New York state, and doesn't miss those heavy snows. Neither do her parents. Arizona is filled with people who moved here to escape heavy winter snows. I understand all this, and I have no desire to live anywhere that is covered with ten-foot drifts four to six months of the year. But living in Phoenix, where fall color on trees happens in the winter, has created in me a desire to experience some place that has four distinct seasons, minus the scalding summers. That would include winters with snow but without blizzards or ice storms.

So maybe Mary and I should move two hours north to Flagstaff, which has gotten several inches of snow the last few days. But since Flagstaff is known for its low wages and high standard of living, that probably is not going to happen any time soon.

So in the meantime, we'll stay in Phoenix, endure the horrid summers, and continue dreaming for that elusive white Christmas.

Real Meaning for Christmas

Of course, I shouldn't let my dream of a wintry Christmas distract from the real reason we celebrate Christmas. Kenny Rogers, my all-time favorite singer, makes an important point in his first Christmas album when he says that Christmas is "not the bells, and it's not the snow/ And it's not the gifts we get/ But He was born so long ago/ It's so easy to forget."

Christmas is equated with winter and snow because it falls in December, which was decided by early Christians a couple thousand years ago. It's a human construction. I knew a friend who grew up in South Africa, and Christmas to him meant summer, outdoor picnics, and swimming in the ocean.

So who cares if Phoenix winters aren't very wintry, or our Christmases don't match the common culture's? That's really now what Christmas is about, is it? Those are just sideshows and minor amusements, really. Ultimately, they don't matter.

So no matter where you are, Merry Christmas.

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