The old Bing Crosby movie-the 1954 classic, White Christmas; originator of the equally classic, “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas, for those who have never seen it-is cheesy, but who among us hasn’t dreamed of being in the midst of one of those Nineteenth Century Victorian Christmas card scenes, replete with horse-drawn sleighs, jingle bells, and people wearing furry coats and top hats? Or, at the very least, being able to see houses, covered in white, with their Christmas lights twinkling beneath a layer of snow as cars drive by quietly upon a snow-blanketed street. At least, that was the standard to hope for growing up on the East Coast. Living here in California, though, the most Christmassy things I’ve seen are luxury SUVs with wreaths tied to their grills.
It had been a while since I had enjoyed the pleasures of a white Christmas, so I decided to leave the lovely, sunny weather of Santa Barbara to visit the Big Apple, yep, New York City, a place where snowfall is much more likely. Opting to leave Santa Barbara in the afternoon, I arrived late at JFK, necessitating a long wait at the train station. It was definitely cold, but no snow to be seen-not even that metallic scent in the air. In fact, the only thing that betrayed the Christmas season was a sign giving the limited hours of operation on Christmas day.
Riding the subway into the city is always a people-watching treat, and today was no exception. There was a number of tired-looking people sitting there, some doing weird things, some keeping to themselves. I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to see a drunk Santa Claus board the train at one of the stops in Queens. The only person I observed wearing holiday attire, however, was a crazy homeless guy outside my last stop who, muttering incoherently to himself, grabbed a Christmas-themed Winnie the Pooh doll out of the trash can, letting out a gleeful cackle at his score. I thought it would’ve been nice to see some Christmas gang tagging on the trains, but the transit authority has long since covered the cars with a non-stick coating that the colorful paint won’t adhere to. The graffiti scratched in the windows isn’t as nice to look at.
At any rate, it was too late to do anything productive that night, so I found myself walking down deserted streets in the east village at three in the morning, carrying luggage and hoping to be in bed sometime before dawn. I still had visions of emerging from a subway station the next day into a snow-covered Rockefeller Center, packed with well-dressed Christmas shoppers and happy-looking ice skaters circling around that tiny rink beneath the huge Christmas tree.
Such was not to be the case. I met my girlfriend-who happened to be staying there with the Jewish Awareness student group from UCSB-and we went to a restaurant so she could indulge in some much deserved non-kosher cuisine. “I’m so sick of bagels and pizza!” she said as she gobbled up a salad laden with chunks of bacon. As it turned out, I ended up doing nothing Christmas related that day. I chatted with Rabbi Mitch Goldstein-the group’s charismatic Ali G-accented leader-before heading up to Columbia University for a stroll around the campus. In fact, by days end, I had completely forgotten that it was Christmas time.
Lacking snow and a bona fide Christmas spirit, I looked for shows and events to go to one evening, thinking that maybe I’d find some holiday-themed entertainment, but the best I could find was Dave Attell’s “Put the Ha! In Hanukkah” comedy tour, which was absolutely hilarious. It was then that I learned White Christmas lesson number one: If you want to have fun two days before Christmas, hang out with Jewish people. They aren’t busy buying presents for family members and fussing over meal preparation details. They’re out partying!
It wasn’t until two days later (days that passed mostly at night, and in West Village bars with my Santa Barbara roommates) that I remembered the fact that it was, indeed, Christmas, and that I was here to see the wonderment of a white one. In the end, I did see some ice skaters and the huge Christmas tree, along with people marching down the street carrying overstuffed shopping bags. The closest there was to snow, however, was a steady rain, which, consequently, saw the temperature increase. It didn’t get cold again until the rain went away at the end of my trip. I didn’t mind though. I joined the last minute Christmas shoppers to find some presents for my family and a new, warmer coat for myself (for those three or four cold days we have in Santa Barbara every year). The weather wasn’t reminiscent of Christmas, but the sales were. Christmas wasn’t white at all, but cold, damp and sunny.
Lesson number two from this experience: The premise behind that old movie is ridiculous! Who wants a white Christmas? It becomes necessary to deal with unpleasant weather conditions. In retrospect, I think I’d rather keep my board shorts and flip-flops at the ready, and prepare for what often turns out to be a day of Santa Barbara’s best weather. From now on, I’ll stay put in California, because I’m dreaming of a bright Christmas.