It never really felt like Christmas unless it snowed. “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,” the radio crooned every December 1st without fail – the idea was so ingrained in the people’s heads that they were convinced Christmas wouldn’t arrive without it. Sure, it would turn to grit and slush a couple of days later, but for that first crisp, white morning, that first blanket of manna from heaven, only pure childish glee would surround the city.
Over the last couple of days of term school children would gaze out of the window at the grey skies, willing the temperature to drop, for the clouds to burst open and pelt airy flakes onto the eager earthlings below. Dreams of skis and sleds would slip and slide over the teacher’s maths lesson, colliding with the blackboard with a giggle and dissipating amongst the scrawled long division and multiplication. A collective sigh would echo around the room as the children turned back to their school books, scribbling half-heartedly, doodling a sprig of holly in the corner of the page.
Snowmen would pop up on street corners, merrily smoking cold pipes, frost bitten carrots stuck clumsily into their faces (and, often, lower bodies); once surly businessmen would slip and slide on their way to work, dodging snowballs thrown by giggling receptionists who hid behind snow peaked mounds on the common, chasing assistants with handfuls of the cold stuff to pack into clothing, all accompanied by shrieks of high pitched laughter. For those first couple of days happiness prevailed and all the troubles of the year were forgotten.
When the snow didn’t come by Christmas week, the people started to panic. What if it didn’t snow this year? Did it snow last year? How about the year before that? It was a late summer, wasn’t it? Oh God, what if we never have snow again? What if global warming has robbed us of our Christmas?
“I don’t care if it doesn’t snow,” one genteel lady sniffed over tea, small dog clad in Christmas jumper on her lap, “I never much care for it anyway. Makes it too difficult to drive around, especially when it melts. So dangerous, too.”
The other five ladies shuffled nervously, glancing at each other from the corners of their eyes.
“I like the snow,” one companion offered nervously, giggling into her tea, “it always makes it feel so,” she gulped, “festive.”
She looked up with a smile, met a steely glare and quickly leapt back into her cup, executing a perfect swan dive and disappearing into the dregs. The others turned away from her empty chair and a waiter silently removed it. The circle of women waxed and waned and then there were four.
On the high street the Christmas tree vendors had taken to dealing with black market snow in order to sell their stock. Nobody wanted to buy a tree unless it was snowing, you see, it was sort of a tradition – struggle in a near blizzard to fetch tree, drag it home/attempt to lash it to the car roof (cursing mandatory) and lose several branches on the way, decorate half-dead said tree at home with gaudy baubles and an angel with a face that’d give the children nightmares for years, curse at pine needles that litter the carpet for months after the tree has gone, dispose of tree in neighbouring street’s skip, repeat the following year.
“Christmas trees! Only ten quid, love! Come get your Christmas trees,” the street vendor yelled in passersby’s ears, each word of alternating loudness, making the shoppers jump with shock. “Hey, mate,” the vendor sidled up to a young dad whose wife and child were looking in a shoe shop. “Mate, you want a tree?”
“Um, I think we’re going with a fake one this year…” The young dad trailed off at the steely look of contempt from the vendor.
“Nah, mate. Real, innit. That’s what the wife wants, mate.”
“She said the pine needles-…”
“Nah, mate,” the vendor stepped closer, “real. Innit.”
The young dad gulped. The vendor stared intently, unblinking, into his eyes, noses touching.
“Yeah mate. I got snow. You want snow? I got real nice snow, mate. Proper re-usable snow, innit mate. Only ten quid a bag, but I like you, I’ll do one for you half price, mate. That’s fifteen quid altogether, innit? Tree. Snow. Christmas, mate. You want your little boy to have a proper ‘White Christmas’, right mate? Mate?”
The young dad nodded quickly, trying to step backwards and away from the terrifying vendor but finding only a forest of trees behind him, blocking his way. The trees pushed him further towards the vendor, rustling their encouragement. ‘Buy us,’ they said, ‘we can give you a real Christmas. We can give you the smell of Christmas. A memory for your boy. Buy us, mate.’
“So mate,” the vendor’s breath was sweet, like pine, “fifteen quid for tree and snow? Whaddya say, mate?”
And with an exchange of crumpled notes and packet of contraband pressed into the young dad’s hand, the vendor backed into the trees behind him, branches wrapping around him, enveloping him, transforming him, all pine and green.
‘Pick one of us,’ the trees rustled, shaking their pines seductively. The young dad tentatively reached a hand towards a full-branched tree, tall, symmetrical and full of rich pines. ‘Not that one,’ the trees snapped their twigs at him, ‘you only paid a tenner. Take the little one at the end, take the runt.’
Later that evening after they struggled home in the rain (“it’s not even snowing,” his young boy would pout all the way home as he was crammed into the back of the Ford Fiesta, itchy pine needles from the poor sickly looking tree falling all over his lap. The young mother wasn’t speaking to the young dad, the bent tip of the tree sticking into the back of her head), tree in living room with a few sad baubles hanging from it, boy and young mother in bed, the young dad would pull out his piece de resistance, the secreted bag of black market snow: ‘simply add water for instant snow, fun and Christmas!’
The young dad smiled as he added a glass of water to the mixture and threw it over the tree – it was remarkable, it really did look like snow. The sad little tree even seemed to perk up a little. Imagine that, the young dad marvelled, his boy would have a real white Christmas! Pride overflowing, he headed into bed and snuggled up to the sleeping young mother, planting a small kiss on her cheek. Still put out by his ridiculous purchase (“it wasn’t even snowing,” she harumphed) she stopped pretending to sleep, shuffled away from him and slapped a pillow in between them to ward off any further advances.
The young dad woke the next morning to a high-pitched shriek and sobbing. Stumbling down the stairs he found a scene of devastation – the sad little Christmas tree was dead, the floor around it covered in the white dusty remnants of the fake snow and next to that the body of beloved family pet, Mr. Winkles, the cat. In the night the fake snow had absorbed all moisture from the already dried out runt of a tree, killing it, then fallen to the ground, whereupon Mr. Winkles had tried to sup upon it (he remembered snow but alas could not distinguish between the real stuff and this black market replica), at which point he had discovered the crucial piece of information missing from the snow’s packaging: do not ingest, toxic.
The boy was wailing into the young mother’s dressing gown. She looked up at the young dad, scowling.
“Oh well, bloody well done – you’ve just ruined Christmas for everybody,” she sniffed angrily. “It wasn’t even snowing,” she spat at him, before sweeping the boy up into her arms and carrying him out of the room.
Christmas Eve came and there was still no snow. Tensions mounted and silly arguments broke out over the Christmas fare: you get to choose turkey or ham, not both! Cousin Linda’s a vegetarian? Well then she could bloody well stay at home and get some Linda McCartney in. What do you mean there were no cranberries left at Waitrose?! Well that’s it, Christmas is ruined! No, don’t even talk to me any more – just go away. Wait, did you pick up the appetisers from M&S? No, you were supposed to get them. No, you were. You were! Well what are we supposed to do without six different types of finger food for four people, before the pre-appetiser, appetiser, turkey or ham with all the trimmings, Christmas pudding and brandy butter?! Oh God, where are the sprouts?!
Without the snow to calm the situation, to send the children careering out into, the holiday makers picked fights over carrots and potatoes, over forgotten custard and turkeys that wouldn’t defrost. Out into the chilly afternoon they trudged, despite having vowed never to be forced to the shops on Christmas Eve again, along to the local mega-mart, where the heating was blasted out so fiercely thirty seconds inside had the shoppers sweating and peeling off layer after layer. One busty twenty-something wandered around in her underwear, apparently unaware that this was not a beach (she was to be forgiven, there was a large summer display complete with sand in the middle of the store, already prepared for the next big holiday season, where she attempted to build a sandcastle then fell asleep in a deck chair for an hour).
High above in his office, the mega-mart mogul rubbed his fat hands together, pound signs in his eyes, smirking as he watched the panicked shoppers grabbing last minute items. “Ho, ho, ho!” He laughed maniacally, hands on fat belly that jiggled with every ‘ho’, rosy red cheeks glistening with mirth and whiskey. He pulled his giggling assistant, clad in elf green, onto his lap.
“Now tell me young miss,” he winked, “this year have you been naughty… or nice?”
“Oh sir,” she giggled, her laughter like a bell, “very, very naughty.”
“Well then, you’ll be going on my list!”
And with one last ‘ho’, the mega-mart mogul pulled on a red hat and drew the blinds.
On Christmas morning the people woke early and ran to their windows, hoping for a Christmas miracle… but hearts fell as they realised that this year there would be no snow and no White Christmas. Instead there was only grey and condensation on the windows.
Wearily they trudged to churches all over the city, fiddled in uncomfortable wooden pews and pulled at tight collars wives had made husbands wear (“I wear ties every day of the week, surely Jesus won’t mind if I wear a t-shirt, right? I mean, this is basically his birthday and I reckon he’d prefer us all to be comfortable and casual”). They listened to sermons that lasted forever and spoke of ‘joy’ and ‘peace’, all the while resenting the warm weather, the lack of festivity, the lack of snow; resenting Christmas.
They stomped back home, not even realising that the weather had suddenly turned, that it was brisker, more frosty, and when they got in they sat around watching Christmas TV (‘The Sound of Music’ was always on at this time of year, wasn’t it?) and drinking mulled wine, waiting for Christmas dinner, waiting for this day to be over.
And then the amazing happened. Somewhere in-between ‘Climb Every Mountain’ and the second helping of turkey (or ham), it started to change outside. A sudden drop in temperature, a shift in the atmosphere, and something drifted down from the sky. It landed on a blade of grass where a curious cow licked it up – the first snowflake. And then a second. And a third. And before the people knew it, snow was falling thick and fast, blanketing the countryside and city alike, masking all imperfections with beautiful, white cotton-like droves. It had finally come: it was a White Christmas after all.
But after all that, you know who noticed it? Not a single person – they were all too busy with Christmas – and when they finally looked out of the window again on Boxing Day, every last snowflake had gone.
And with this short story which has nothing at all to do with food, I wish you all a very merry Christmas, happy Hannukah, joyful Kwanzaa or any other holiday you celebrate at this time of year and, of course, a very happy new year. Thanks for sticking with me through 2011 – see you next year.
Until 2012, peace and love,