TRADITION has given Christmas a cloak of white and even in Australia, where it is often celebrated in sweltering heat, Christmas cards depict snow scenes. The idea that we should celebrate the Nativits surrounded by snow is almost world-wide.
So far as Britain is concerned, the belief in a "white" Christmas may arise from the widely held notion that in past centuries the last week in December was almost invariably a period of Arctic weather. Charles Dickens strengthened the belief by introducing graphic descriptions of snowy conditions at this season into several of his stories.
But is the "white" Christmas a meteorological fact or merely a myth? Was it experienced as often in earlier times as we are apt to assume?
The truth, as borne out by records since the Meteorological Office was founded in 1854, and by documentary and other evidence from earlier times, is that Christmas has long brought widely varied kinds of weather. Our forefathers did experience severe conditions, but not as frequently as commonly supposed
From 18 31 to 1850, for instance, Britain had only one snowy Christmas.
Arctic conditions did sometimes coincide with Christmas, of course, but it is a human trait to remember these more than the more pleasant ones. Thus,, the "hard" ones come to be regarded as more frequent.
Some exceptionally severe Christmases occurred in the 16th and 17th centuries. Privy Council records of 1579, speak of the "extremely hard weather" and the historian Holinshed refers to a particularly snowy Christmas in 1565. There was another in 1694. and it was followed by a great frost which split many trees.
It may be significant that the calendar was altered in 1752. Before then, Christmas Day fell II days later than it does today and the likelihood of heavy snow would be greater.
Even so, Christmas weather seems to run in cycles. Dickens's childhood, happened to coincide with a series of white Christmases, so that for him such weather seemed typical, and described them so in his novels.
Most of us, tend to regard our earliest Christmas memories as typical, whereas they are not necessarils so.
Britain has in fact been blanketed by snow on Christmas Day only twice this century. Some places have had more white Christmases than that, of course, the whole nation awoke to find the landscape snow-covered on only Christmas morning, 1906 and 1927, Yet meterologists put the prospects of a white Christmas as high as one in fifteen, taking the probable average for the whole 20th century. The one-in-fifteen average is derived from records since 1840. There have been general snowfalls in Britain on eight Christmas Days during the last 116 years.
The coldest Christmas in Britain since official records were started was in 1860. On Christmas Day in that year 17 degrees of frost were recorded in Hyde Park. London, hut the thermometer fell much lower in some parts of the cOuntry during the previous night. Nottingham had more than -15 degrees of frost at ground level.
One of the most devastating snowstorms struck Britain just before Christmas in 1836. It halted the stage-coach services and stopped communications everywhere. The blizzard began in the north, then moved to the south. It did not stop for a week. A large part of the country population had a sorry Christmas, as Christmas food could not he distributed.
1.or severity. however. Christmas 1814 has never since been equalled in Britain. Christmas Eve had been mild, hut during the night an unprecedented frost swept the land. By Christmas morning every river and lake was frozen hard and many a tramp froze to death as he slept.
-There have been Arctic Christmases in living memory. The most severe this centers sots that of 1927 — the first white one for 21 years. But Christmases this century have also had some exceptionally mild weather, such as that of 1913 ss hen roses bloomed out of doors and primrosest and violets appeared in sheltered places_