This morning there were snowflakes in the air. Just a few, brushing past my face intermittently. I haven’t seen the forecast—not that I think it would tell me whether or not to expect snow. I wonder if there’s something on the way and I dread the possibility.
Snow is only magical at Christmastime. During the holidays, when the lights are up, when we are dashing about shopping and going to parties and buying the tree, snow on the ground completes the scene. It feels homey and nostalgic. Even if it’s a significant snow that closes schools and libraries and keeps everyone home for a day or two, there are fun and special things to fill that time. Trimming the tree can fill a wintry afternoon, and baking cookies can take a whole day. What better time for baking than when we’re stuck inside? Standing in the kitchen, watching the kids make a snowman in the backyard, pulling another tray of gingerbread men or snicker doodles out of the oven is like a small chunk of perfection, all brought to you compliments of the season and the snowfall.
In January? Not so much. It’s just a snow storm. The joy of a special holiday is replaced with worry, since we likely used up too much vacation time in December. We need to make arrangements for childcare in case school is suddenly closed. We worry whether there’s enough windshield de-icer in our cars and salt in the garage. How many snow-shoveling induced heart attacks will we hear about? Is there enough wine and beer in the house to get through a day or two with the family?
Why is it so different? Why can’t we simply enjoy the beautiful snowfall and the sudden day off? For one thing there’s the expense. That unpaid time off or unanticipated childcare expense is hard, and for people whose jobs don’t even offer paid time off, it’s a cut in income. So is another round of paying for snowplowing and show shoveling. These expenses are the same in December, but in December we’re on a spending spree. We’re rolling up credit card debt at a rapid clip, turning a blind eye to the New Year when the bills come due. Once January comes and we sober up, tighten our belts and start to pay off the holiday bills, the last thing we want is more winter-related expense.
And frankly, snow in January fails to be lovely. There are no colored lights to brighten the mounds of white, no polystyrene reindeer pull sleighs through it. We miss the charming incongruity of Mary and Joseph, waist deep in snow, adoring their new-born babe. The treetops don’t glisten, they sag beneath the weight and threaten to snap. The snow plows lumber along the streets, hurling icy brown sludge to the curbs. Because January is colder than December the snow lingers, outstays its welcome, becomes sooty and muddy and gray. It is not a blanket but a pall.
Not only that, but snow in January reminds us of one inescapable fact about winter: February. With the rapidly building climate change, we get many unseasonably warm days in January (2016 was the warmest year on record for the third year in a row). It makes you forget you’re in the midst of winter and leads you to anticipate spring long before it has any chance of appearing–and we still have February to contend with.
I just checked the local forecast, which carries no prediction of snow. I also checked the National Weather Service Website, which carries the headline ‘Tranquil weather for most of the U.S. this weekend.’ Sounds reassuring.
I expect the worst.