Let it Snow, for Now

Night photo of decorative lighting on Halifax City Hall and a tree with colourful lights in front of City Hall.
Christmas decorations at Halifax City Hall, and people enjoying a cold evening stroll. Photo by Tim Covell, 2020.

It’s about two weeks to Christmas, which means for the next two weeks everyone (in northern climes) is happy about winter weather. Snow, ice, and freezing temperatures are just excuses for picturesque winter scenes, ancient pop songs about winter, and wearing colourful scarves while drinking hot chocolate.

That ends the afternoon of December 25, and then we spend the next three months complaining about awful weather.

Consider Jingle Bells, a staple of “holiday music.” It was published in 1857. That means, among other things, it is in the public domain and anyone can record it, royalty free. This should not be considered legal or artistic advice — consult a lawyer and a friend who gives honest criticism before posting your own recording. Jingle Bells was originally one of several winter drinking and sleighing songs, first presented as part of a racist show, and it became associated with Christmas decades later. By the late 1800s, it seems people were thinking nostalgically of the mid-1800s, which comes as no surprise to anyone over fifty.

Other standards of the season, such as Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, and Hard Candy Christmas, are about hardship and suffering, but they are part of the sonic background meant to inspire happy seasonal shopping. They are not public domain, by the way, so keep your renditions of those to yourself, no matter how good they are. If you are looking for more public domain seasonal songs or Christmas carols, check this list.

Apart from pop songs old and new, there are Christmas decorating traditions, most notably the tree. As almost everyone knows, there’s nothing Christian about a Christmas tree, though many churches have adopted the imagery. In Catholic churches I attended, there was usually a modest unadorned tree near the altar, a grudging acknowledgement of popular culture.

Inside houses, decorating often starts with the tree, either getting the artificial one out of storage, or picking up a formerly live one. That’s an excuse to run a clip from Christmas Vacation (1989). In this early scene, the family are on their way to a tree lot when they are tailgated by a pickup truck.

Did this clip inspire me to later purchase a Ford Taurus station wagon? Hard to say. They were large, comfortable, handled well, and were terribly unreliable. I had two (sometimes I am a slow learner), and I sold both of them to scrapyards. The good handling may have helped with this movie stunt. It looks like the only movie trickery was the extra bar in front of the logging truck’s rear wheels. Also, some of the snow was artificial, they were in Colorado, not Illinois, and the battered truck is a veteran actor, having previously appeared in the comedy Overboard (1987) and the horror They Live (1988).

Christmas Vacation is famous for the scene of excessive lights on the house. Lights are, of course, another holdover from pagan traditions, and they are pleasant during the shorter days, which continue long after many people have taken their lights down.

However secular or pagan lights may be, I believe they should stay up until at least Epiphany or Twelfth Night (January 6). And why not leave them longer? There are religious superstitions that Christmas decorations must not be up past then, but variations on that superstition consider other Christian occasions the deadline, including Candlemas (February 2), Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday, or even Good Friday, which takes you well into March or April. Or you could take them down on the spring equinox, when spring officially begins and the need for evening lights is lessened.

By spring, we are all heartily sick of winter, but maybe that wouldn’t be the case if we didn’t squeeze all of our winter pleasure into the beginning of the season. We might tolerate winter better if sleigh rides and other icy pleasures were to be enjoyed for months. And we might appreciate our lights, happy winter songs, uplifting seasonal movies, and colourful or playful decorations more if we didn’t binge on them for a few weeks in December. Who knows, maybe we could even extend that peace and goodwill feeling past December 25.

By trc

Freelance writer, freelance editor, web consultant, and film studies scholar.

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