It snowed here in Denver yesterday. Not much — there’s probably no more than half an inch of it in my yard. But it’s lingered, and it feels good to me because it’s been unseasonably warm and dry here for months. It shouldn’t be 71 degrees and sunny in December, you know? It should be cold and gray, and we ought to be able to hear the crunch of our boots in the snow and watch our breath hover in the air in front of us for a second or two before it wafts toward Orion’s belt shining bright in the clear, black winter sky.
We need snow and cold at this time of year in the same way we need sunshine and warmth in the summer. Without them, how will Santa Claus land on our roofs on Christmas Eve, and how will boys make snowballs to toss at girls they think are cute? What’s the point of lighting a fire, wearing slippers, or hanging mistletoe in the doorway to the living room if it isn’t cold?
Yes, it snowed, and I’m happy it did.
Now it feels like Christmas.
Some people don’t like snow. It’s inconvenient.
I get that.
Some people don’t like Christmas, either. It’s an unwelcome break in the routine, an archaic celebration of things unseen and of a fading, foolish faith. A humbug.
I get that, too.
But I like snow and I like Christmas. I like the food. I like giving and receiving presents, and drinking a bit too much at parties. I like the strands of white lights that remind me of icicles, and the strings of blue, red, green, yellow and orange lights that, however kitsch, remind me that winter will end one day, and when it does, the world will be blanketed with color again. I like it that people are just a wee bit nicer to one another, and that sometimes, if you listen closely, you can catch them humming Silent Night or Jingle Bells under their breath. I like it that the powerful lyrics and minor chords of Ave Maria or Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel still bring tears to my eyes.
Maybe I like this time of year because I was born just three days before Christmas. My mother was recovering in the hospital on Christmas Day. To honor her, and I suppose me, the nurses on her ward gave her a split Eucalyptus log with a small hole drilled in it to hold a single red candle. It’s just a bit of unfinished wood, the stringy bark peeling away from it like a raggedy sweater. But my mother kept it, and she still puts it on display at the holidays all these decades later, as if to say, “Yes, I was as proud of my baby boy then as Mary was of hers, and I still am, God bless us all.”
Sometimes people ask me if I mind having a birthday so close to the holiday. I don’t, and as far as I can recall, I never have. I don’t mind sharing space with the baby Jesus. It doesn’t me feel small to be juxtaposed with greatness, anymore than it makes me feel insignificant to stand on a high mountain trail or on a sandy ocean beach and look out across the vastness of the Earth. I understand my place in the world, and I accept it. I am one of billions of people in a universe that may be filled with billions of planets, but like every snowflake I’m also unique. I occupy my own special space and time, and I am loved.
Besides, my parents always made it a point to celebrate both occasions equally, and sometimes they asked me if I wanted two small presents or one large one. That’s how I came by my first real camera, a high-quality 35mm single-lens reflex Chinon with a compact body and a set of lenses.
I used that camera personally and professionally for about 30 years. Took a lot of good photos with it, too, many of them at Christmas. The prints of those Christmases past are stored in photo albums, just as the digital Christmas photos I take now with my modern Nikon are stored in virtual albums on my computer. Technology changes, but our desire to freeze the best parts of the present so that we can remember the best parts of the past doesn’t.
It’s cold outside. Well below freezing, and snowing. But I’m wrapped in a blanket, warm, the lights turned down low. I hope it snows all night, and that I have to shovel the walk tomorrow. The exercise would do me good.
P.S. — When I woke up this morning, it was 7 degrees Fahrenheit and I had to scrape the ice off my windshield. I hate winter, and can’t wait for spring.