For many years, my Christmases were 70 degrees and sunny. From my house in Los Angeles, I sent out holiday cards depicting cactuses draped with twinkle lights, or surfing snowmen in sunglasses. That ended when I moved to Alaska six years ago. Of all the changes I looked forward to, white Christmases were at the top of my list. And now that I’ve enjoyed a few, I can vouch for the fact that Alaskan Christmases are truly special.
Since we’ve been losing light at a rapid pace since September, we tend to put up the Christmas lights early. Here in Homer, I began noticing light displays shortly after Halloween. With the darkness closing in, birds falling silent, and a sense of deep sleep settling in over the landscape, the whimsical lights offer a touch of wonder in a frozen world.
When I dreamed of a white Christmas, I never
imagined sea smoke hovering over the bay in icy tendrils, or pillows of snow weighing down the spruce boughs. I didn’t know that the sun’s rays would send shimmers of gold across the glaciers or that the snow would turn the beach blue at dawn. Alaska at Christmastime is one breathless moment of enchantment after another.
Many Alaskans I know throw themselves into Christmas with the fervor of campers huddling around a bonfire in the wilderness. Christmas cookies, knitting projects, homemade peach Schnapps, homemade sauerkraut, homemade current jelly. This year, I plunged into the spirit of an Alaskan Christmas by buying only items made in Homer by local artists and craftspeople. I went against the grain and ignored the Internet, instead buying handmade mugs adorned with fishing boats, a silk-screened Alaskan “prayer flag,” skeins of hand-dyed yarn made from baby alpaca wool, hand-knitted fingerless gloves, a DVD of Sandhill Cranes nesting nearby. Then I piled all my packages on a sled, feeling like Santa on the way to the post office.
On Christmas Eve we loaded up our truck with more presents, 4,000 square feet of locally milled spruce boards, snow tires for my brother-in-law, boxes of Christmas cookies, a cooler of smoked salmon, and headed north to join family in Anchorage.
But before we could leave, we had an endless list of tasks. We had to shovel a foot of snow off the roof, set timers to keep the plumbing from freezing, and empty the refrigerator. Because one thing you can count on during an Alaskan winter – the cold and ice are relentless and survival takes wits and hard work.
By the time we steered the truck through Turnagain Pass, a windstorm roaring outside, peace reigning within, I knew we’d earned our White Christmas.
Jennifer Bernard's next book is DESPERATELY SEEKING FIREMAN, out on December 31.