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“I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas…”

Does it snow where you live on Christmas? The likelihood of a white Christmas is not high, yet the pull of a white Christmas remains strong in our culture. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how we lump and split weather with the seasons. 

During mid-November it snowed. A couple of days later, we were taking shelter from tornado threats (for some in Central Illinois, the threats were real). Two days ago, it was 63 degrees and today there is a skiff of snow and ice on the ground. In Illinois, we occasionally experience more than one season in the same week and sometimes in the same day (thanks to the 40 degree drop in temperature from time to time).

Wait a minute. Go read that last paragraph. Do you see it? I said that “we occasionally experience more than one season in the same week.” How can that be? What I really mean to say is that we experience weather more commonly associated with other seasons out-of-season.

But why? Why do we associate certain weather patterns with certain seasons?

We tend to associate certain weather patterns with certain seasons even when our own weather pattern deviates from the dominant narrative. We lump together cold and snowy days as winter days. Hot days are lumped together as summer days. So for those living in warmer climates, everyday is summer. When I lived in Atlanta, I used to describe the weather as “summer and later that summer when it got cold one day” because once the temperature reached 90 degrees, it stayed there until October. To my Midwestern mind, it can not really be winter until it drops to at least 40 degrees and ideally snows. And when the temperature conflicts with our expecations, we simply split it off as exceptional.

Our expectations of what the weather should be like based on the calendar often conflicts with what the weather is actually like. For example, American culture associates snow on Christmas morning as an “ideal” Christmas. I even have this expectation even though I can only recall a couple of times when it actually did snow on Christmas while living in the Midwest.  Last December, I was in Chicago about a week before Christmas. I snapped the photo below and captioned it: “nothing says Christmas in Chicago like rain and 50 degree weather.”

Yet again, my expectations about what the weather should be like differed from what the weather was actually like. In fact, few Americans can count on having a white Christmas with any regularity despite our pop cultural portrayals of snowy Christmases. Perhaps this is why Bing Crosby’s White Christmas persists in popularity? Is it that most Americans are dreaming (and can only dream) of a white Christmas? It appears that this cultural association of the white stuff with Christmas is not just American, as both the Irish Examiner and London 24 have already both posted articles asking whether there will be snow for Christmas in Ireland and London this year.

Overall, our expectations about what the weather should be like are as much a product of our culture as nature.

Dig Deeper:

  1. Write five characteristics of each of the seasons (fall, winter, spring, and summer). With a classmate, compare your lists. Discuss how your list matches the reality of weather where you live.
  2. Next, ask two or three people older than you (ideally, people who are over 50) that you know to make a list like you did in question 1. Compare your list with their lists. What differences and similarities exist? (Yes, I am assuming that most readers are younger than 50.) Bonus question: Has global warming made it less likely to snow on Christmas? How does global warming relate to how our perceptions about the weather vary based on age?
  3. Now, take your lists and research what the weather patterns are actually like where you live. Use the National Weather Service for data. What did you find?
  4. Finally, analyze weather patterns using popular culture. You may select song lyrics, movies, or even children’s books. Examine a selection of these items for themes about expectations of the weather based on the season portrayed in the item. How do your findings match up with your findings in the three previous questions?