Dreaming of the proverbial white Christmas

When you don't see snow very often, it's captivating.

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    Cold weather: A Scottish woodlands worker carries a Christmas tree near the village of Biggar in Scotland, about 30 miles from Edinburgh.
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I'm dreaming of a ... well, kind of.

Mostly, where I live – in Glasgow, in southwest Scotland – if we get the white stuff at all, it's after Christmas rather than during it. So dreaming is pretty much all we do.

But who knows, this year Christmas just might be a white one. There are hints. We have been treated, starting in October, to some impressive early frosts.

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And recently, walking with the dogs, we overtook a young woman standing on the path with binoculars and a camera who was very carefully gazing at the willow branches, the pendulous grasses, and the cow-parsley skeletons - like umbrella spokes upturned by the wind – every twig and filament of which was white and stiff with crystalline hoarfrost.

I wondered, in an era of global warming, whether the young woman might be seeing such a phenomenon for the first time. It seems many years since we've had hoarfrost to this degree around here. It was almost as good as a decent snowfall.

I have lived in places where it would be strange if there was no snow over Christmas. In Vermont, for instance, isn't it always deep in snow by the end of December? Or am I just remembering it that way? And yet in "White Christmas," that famous Bing Crosby film – supposed to be set in Vermont – unusually mild conditions meant that it almost didn't snow at all. (And then, of course, it did, and everyone lived happily ever after).

But nostalgia can be a misleading frame of mind. It persuades one to imagine that we "used to know" Christmases that regularly obliged with the right snowy conditions, and when holly leaves, contrasting with the surrounding whiteness, were a dark varnished green and the berries an unbelievable scarlet.

Or was this only on calendars and cards? Were our childhood Christmases actually like that?

We certainly did dust down the old wooden sledge or sleigh a number of winter mornings when we were children in Yorkshire and dragged it hopefully up the steep field nearby. The field – to our bursting excitement – had been covered in snow while we slept.

In the 1970s, when I was living farther west in the same county, the kids at the farm across the fields once improvised with plastic bags and trash-can lids as they skidded down the slope between us.

But in my 28 years of living in Glasgow, I recall only one winter of extreme cold, when the snow froze and then another snowfall topped it so that for a week or so, it couldn't find a way of melting at all.

There was some local sledding that hard winter. Driveways were blocked, and cars, stuck in drifts, revved ineffectually before being abandoned. There was reportedly a snowplow somewhere south of here, but nobody seemed able to locate it. My suspicion is that nobody really wanted to. Snow is such a wonderful excuse, in places where it is rare, for not being able to get to work, and for taking a few days extra holiday.

Already this year, schools have been closed several times in more northern reaches of Scotland – and there were no pictures on TV of children looking disconsolate.

Of course, adulthood makes us more aware of the inconveniences of snow and ice. Yet all it takes is a brilliant sunny morning after a nocturnal snowfall for the visual wonder of the snow's brightness to catch you and for you to find yourself utterly captivated by that glorious feeling of irresponsibility that goes with being age 7 or 8 and in a white world.

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