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The Dirt on Christmas From Ground Below-Zero

We wanted snow for the holidays. Endless streams of flurries, drifts up to our knees, giant mounds of fluffy, white snow suitable for sledding and snowballs and making snow angels . . . those were on my daughters’ Christmas wish lists this year.

We got it, all right, on our winter vacation: Ten days of the kind of winter weather that looks so perfect on Christmas cards. And my daughters loved it . . . for all of about 10 minutes.

Because what they hadn’t realized is that snow is most often accompanied by cold--in this case, bone-chilling, nose-running, feet-freezing cold. That 15 minutes of sledding in 10-degree weather can require 20 minutes of preparation and hours more of recuperation.

Or that plunging from a restaurant’s heated vestibule into the arctic wind of its parking lot--which you’re forced to wander because Mommy can’t remember where she parked the rental car, or even which one of these salt-covered autos might be hers--can be kind of like jumping from a steaming Jacuzzi into a frigid pool . . . only much worse.

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Or that snow is a delightful “concept,"--as my oldest daughter called it through chattering teeth, while I fumbled through my mittens to unlock the car--that she will henceforth be content to enjoy “in the abstract,” from the comfort of our Southern California home.

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To be fair, this Midwestern winter has been extraordinarily cold, with day after day of near-record lows. During our time in Ohio, the sun rarely shone, the mercury never rose above 20, and the notorious wind-chill factor made even short trips feel like suicide missions.

So much for sharing with my children those fantasies of the winters I recall--of hours spent outdoors building forts and snowmen, waging snowball battles and hurtling down hillsides.

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Instead, we were mostly stuck inside, intimidated by the process of bundling up and venturing out into air so cold it stung my lungs and made my daughters cry.

I’d forgotten how easily an Ohio winter can constrict your life, how much planning is required for a simple errand, how much fortitude it can take to simply survive.

I’d remembered the sweetness of snowflakes melting on my tongue, but not the aggravation of salt stains on the hem of my favorite jeans. I’d remembered how to drive on icy roads, but had forgotten all that would be required before I could even pull out into the street--shovel a path, let the car idle, scrape ice and snow off the windows and headlights.

I realized how out of touch I was when I unpacked my suitcase and pulled out the shoes I’d brought to wear to a Christmas party: strappy, silver sandals, the ones I’d worn to an L.A. party the Christmas before. My sister--clad head-to-toe in black suede--looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. “And what were you thinking when you packed those?” she said.

What was I thinking? Of the winter I had left behind, where I had done my Christmas shopping in shorts, and driven home with the air conditioning on in my car.

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Tomorrow, if tradition holds, Southern California will strut its stuff for the nation to see, in our annual Rose Parade display.

But lest we get too cocky about our temperate clime, it helps to remember that our Midwestern brethren can be as arrogant about their weather as we.

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“Christmas is best celebrated cold,” declared the headline over a Christmas Eve column I read in the Toledo paper, on a day when the mercury hovered around 9.

The holiday, Blade columnist Mary Alice Powell said, “fits best where there is snow and nippy weather. A sandy beach background doesn’t suggest glad tidings, but snow being whipped by a wind cold enough to turn faces red sure does. . . . Christmas just feels better with your mittens on and warm boots strapped tight for protection against the elements.

“Now tell me truthfully,” she asked, “doesn’t eggnog by the fireplace have a sweeter ring to it than a mai tai poolside?”

Having had both, Mary Alice, I can say, unequivocally: No. You can have the elements, the red faces, the warm mittens and tight boots and nippy weather.

Next year, give me my mai tai on the beach, my snow in concept only, my winter wonderland in the abstract, please.


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