“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently?”
– Alice in Wonderland
I had originally planned to write this post for Christmas Day but what with my recent stay in hospital things have got a bit off plan! I’m now home which is great and, whilst this isn’t the end of my swallowing troubles, I am sleeping in my own bed, I have my stuff around me and I’m not getting woken up at 5.30am to be told my blood pressure is low. Side note, it’s always low, especially at that time of day…
Whilst I was in hospital, it snowed. The first time it snowed, it came in quite a flurry and a lovely stranger took me for a walk to see the hospital’s Christmas display in the snow.
Another side note, this guy was so lovely. He was there to see a friend and we’d said hi a couple of times but on this occasion the doctors were with her so he pulled up a seat and started chatting. Then he said that I must be bored of being on the ward and had I been for a walk. I explained I couldn’t cos I need a wheelchair and can’t propel myself. So he got me into my chair and off we went! It was so great to be off the ward and really nice to see the snow. His friend got discharged shortly after. Then, a couple of days later, he appeared on the ward again! He was passing by and was popping in to see if I was still there and if I was ok. He dropped by again earlier this week and took me for another trip around the hospital and wanted to know if there was anything I needed that he could pick up for me. It was really nice of him. He had no reason to do any of that and he wasn’t trying to hit on me or anything of the sort, he was just really kind and thoughtful and being retired he had the time to do that sort of thing.
Anyway, back to snow!
“Heavy snowflakes fall, flying in all directions but when there is no wind, they descend so slowly that they seem determined not to land on the ground. When in fact they do touch the ground, they vanish completely”
– Thomas Merton
We think of snow as being the weather of Christmas but in actual fact, Christmas is generally just the beginning of the snow season. In the UK, we are far more likely to see snow from January to March than in December. I find this interesting and perhaps instead of seeing Christmas as peak snow time (which I suspect most of us do) we should see Christmas as the start of snow time. The beginning of something. I haven’t fully formed this in my head but I like the idea of Christmas marking the start of something. Almost everything else positions Christmas as the peak, we focus a lot on the run up to the day and then for many people, the day and the period after are sort of an anticlimax or the bit after which is less important. I’m going to blame hospital funk and not being well for this lack of articulation!
According to the Met Office, white Christmases were more frequent in the 18th and 19th centuries which was also when Christmas cards and other commercial concepts started to appear. This possibly explains the heavy use of snow in festive ephemera.
It’s important to note here that for the Met Office, a white Christmas is one where at least a single snowflake is observed to fall at some point in the 24 hours of Christmas Day. With this definition, more than half of all Christmas Days can be expected to be a white Christmas. But in terms of achieving that Christmas card scene with widespread snow covering the ground, the chances are much lower with 4 occasions in the last 51 years, the last being 2010.
Apparently, the snowiest winter in Great Britain was in 1947. Between the 22 January and the 17 March snow fell every day somewhere across the UK.
“You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment, where is it to be found?”
– J.B. Priestly
Snow is magical. Partly I suspect because we, in the UK, don’t see much of it and partly because of the time of year it falls and hence it’s association with Christmas and the excitement that can come with that.
It is a strange type of weather. It is ephemeral, occupying a thin line between ice and rain. It coats the earth in a blanket of white but is actually translucent. There is the fascinating, wonderful nature of snowflakes each having a unique structure. Snow transforms the landscape, concealing the familiar. All of this plays magnificently into the hands of poets and writers.
In snow, anything is possible. Snowmen can come to life and take you flying across the sky. Lions and witches can inhabit a snowy world reached through the back of a wardrobe. Snowy nights can set the scene for Victorian-esque ghost stories.
“I thought her as chaste as unsunned snow.”
Snow is often used as a metaphor for slumber, purity and renewal. It can convey a sense of peacefulness and quiet as well as invoking nostalgia. There is a romanticised view of snow, holding hands with loved ones as you dance across ice rinks with snow falling gently around you…
“They were playing old Bob Dylan, more than perfect for narrow Village streets close to Christmas and the snow whirling down in big feathery flakes, the kind of winter where you want to be walking down a city street with your arm around a girl like on the old record cover.”
—Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch
However, snow can also be a force of nature, it has the power to disrupt as well as kill – every year in the US, about 100 people die shovelling snow and there’s obviously more deaths from traffic accidents, from the cold etc. And as snow falls from the clouds, the flakes stop growing and start to wither.
We see the darker side of snow in writing which depicts it as bleak or uses it to echo the icy cold hearts of characters such as Dickens’ Scrooge. In The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder we hear of how her family almost starved to death during “blinding, smothering, scratching snow”.
Snow, it seems, is a powerful tool in a writer’s toolkit. Whether you use it to create joy, to create children laughing and playing or use it to create catastrophe, death and destruction, have fun with snow in your writing this month.