This close encounter with the much-anticipated White Christmas came as something of a shock: with the oil topped up, and by chance an hour south and an hour west of the places that faced *real* problems in those days, all we could do is glory in it and weep at its fading, and dream of holidays to Spitsbergen, South Georgia or Kamchatka, black-and-white places not quite yet turned to new costas by climate change.
Which got me to thinking about White Christmases. How they are a north European imposition on an event which we are meant to be celebrating, but which took place in the Middle East. If this was really All About Jesus, we would celebrate a Hot Christmas, or at least not a snowbound one. But it’s not: Jesus’ birth day us unknown, and History has chosen midwinter, and something older and more fundamental than a very good man (even a Divine one) is written in the DNA of this festival. That’s why we lug fresh evergreens into our living rooms, and send each other cards where Babylonian mages wade through dune-high snowdrifts and the star is crystalline on a freezing night.
But also that a White Christmas in reality is not just about snowballs and hot toddies and evenings round the fire. It’s about failed trains, blocked roads, people getting stuck, rough sleepers losing their lives. And in a funny kind of way, that thought *does* tie us in to the Christian layer of the rich midwinter/Christ child/consumer feeding frenzy layer-cake that is Christmas in the North Atlantic Archipelago. Because that tired story is all about ordinary people having hard times; the blind actions of distant, all-powerful states; refugees, childbirth, compassion and gifts.
I fantasised about relocating the whole shebang to one of those benighted EuroStar trains: what if they had failed deep beneath the Channel on Christmas day itself; and on board there is a family who are making the journey because of the blind whims of a distant state – west African refugees, perhaps, forcibly ejected from one side of the Channel or another – and in the hold-up one of the woman goes into labour; and a kindly employee with a torch shows those on board – three executives coming back from late meetings, a handful of OrdinaryPeople on a last minute bargain-rush across the water – where they can help by giving from their supplies of ungiven gifts and on-journey refreshments….