It remains a mystery to me why Irving Berlin was dreaming of a white Christmas way back in the days when color movies were first coming into their own, but he was.
Ever since Bing Crosby made his melancholy recording of the great American songsmith's verses on longing for a traditional holiday season, there's been something of a cultural hope for snow being on the ground when the calendar hits Dec. 25.
According to legend, a version of which was first revealed to me when I was in elementary school, the songwriter was pent up alone in a hotel in the American southwest during the holidays and his longing for family and the warmth of the season inspired him to pen the song. It's a nice story, and there's probably a measure of truth to it as anyone who is away from loved ones for extended periods is apt to succumb to bouts of homesickness from time to time. Still, Mr. Berlin was Jewish, so I suspect the feelings that inspired the heartfelt holiday tune may relate to another holiday, or maybe no holiday at all.
It's also worth taking a second during the Christmas season to be thankful for all the Jewish songwriters who wrote a fair number of the holiday classics — from "Let It Snow" to "Santa Baby" — that are part of the American observance of the holiday. Only in America...
So ingrained in the American Christmas psyche is the notion that the holiday needs snow to be complete that the National Weather Service has come up with some fairly detailed material on the subject. While it would be easy to criticize the federal government for being frivolous in putting together the white Christmas sections of the weather.gov website, in the long run it's probably a money saver. I'm sure hundreds, if not thousands, of media outlets would be barking for one or another of the white Christmas details offered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The closest forecast center to this area is in Sterling, Va., and it has a page entitled "White Christmas Probabilities and Statistics," which offers specifics for Baltimore and the nation's capital.
The section on the Baltimore area begins: "Examination of weather records going back to 1872 ... shows a typical Christmas Day is partly cloudy with a frosty early morning low of 26 and an afternoon high of 43. But the year-to-year weather can vary considerably."
It goes on to identify the six greatest Christmas Day snowstorms for the area in the past 119 years, which include an inch in 2002, 9.3 inches in 1909 and amounts in between for 1902, 1935, 1962 and 1969. There's also a notation that "measurable snow" fell in the area in 1993 and that in the past 40 years (most of my life span) there have been only three Christmas Days when measurable snow was on the ground.
For a long time, until I was well into my 20s, I thought I was missing something; that somehow it was a fluke that most of the time Christmas Day and Thanksgiving Day, in terms of weather, were an awful lot alike: cool to cold, maybe wet, but not white.
Turns out, snow on Christmas isn't just a statistical rarity in Maryland – where I've spend most of my life – but in 49 of the 50 states. The National Weather Service has a nice map that shows the probability of a white Christmas for the lower 48.The places where the odds are 90 percent or better are restricted to a few swaths in the Great Lakes states, a nub in Maine and some remote parts of the Rocky Mountains. Neither Alaska nor Hawaii are included because, presumably, one is all but guaranteed a white Christmas and the other (aside from a few high mountain peaks) rarely sees snow at all.
Most of Maryland falls either in the 10 percent or less chance of a white Christmas area, or the 10 to 25 percent area, with Harford County being in the 10 to 25 percent area, though just barely, as territories just to the east of the Chesapeake from Harford are in the 0 to 10 percent zone.
Personally, I long ago stopped dreaming of a white Christmas. The more I thought about it from a logical perspective, the sillier it seemed. Though it does snow in Israel and the surrounding area — something that happened in spades last week for the first time in over 100 years — the Holy Land isn't the first place most people think of when the idea of a white Christmas comes up.
Then I was hit with something of a dose of holiday reality while walking in the snow over the weekend with my son, Nick. It was snowing, second blast of the season, and we were walking the dog and throwing snow balls when he asked if I thought we'd have a white Christmas. We talked about it and came to the conclusion that some of the recent stuff may well still be on the ground in a week and a half, and we could end up with some more.
It's hard to predict such things – the weather service doesn't always get it right and they've got some impressive equipment. I'm inclined at this point to believe it isn't so much the snow that's the reason so many of us want a white Christmas. Instead, dreaming of a white Christmas just dreaming of spending some pleasant time with loved ones, regardless of faith or the weather.