"Bah, humbug," say 63 percent of...

WHITE CHRISTMAS?

December 27, 1993|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

WHITE CHRISTMAS? "Bah, humbug," say 63 percent of Americans polled by ABC News and Money magazine this month.

This takes note of a significant trend. Americans increasingly are turning away from the element -- snow -- that is most responsible for the creation of the United States and its bedrock values.

The good old U. S. of A. was created by the Revolutionary War. Few Americans know much about the war. It has never been as popular with the public as the Civil War. But ask the average American to name some important moment in the Revolutionary War and you will probably get "Valley Forge" or "Washington Crossing the Delaware."

In fact, ask the average historian to name a Revolutionary War event and you would probably get the same response. Washington and his troops fought the Battle of Trenton on Dec. 26, 1776, after they crossed the icy Delaware River on a snowy night. An English historian has written of that battle, "It may be doubted whether so small a number of men ever. . . [produced] greater and more lasting results upon the history of the world."

As for Valley Forge, where Washington's army encamped through the very cold, snowy winter of 1777-1778, historians agree that Washington's character, courage and persistence were never better displayed than there. Because of this, his army trained itself into a great fighting force that winter and went on to major victories.

Snow and cold shaped the national character in the 18th and early 19th century. Ralph Waldo Emerson praised it in poetry ("the frolic architecture of the snow") and essay ("Wherever snow falls there is usually civil freedom"). Thomas Paine derided those who could not stand up to its hardship ("Summer soldiers and sunshine patriots").

The American men and women who created and managed the nation's social and governmental institutions were for the most part people who had to learn the skills of husbandry, endurance, patience, thrift and cooperation that it takes to get through cold, snowy winters.

Almost all Americans knew about snow first-hand in those days. Ninety-two percent of the population in 1780 lived in states in climate zones with a mean annual snowfall of at least 16 inches and with at least 10 days of at least a 1-inch snowfall. Today only 63 percent do.

In 1780, 71 percent of Americans lived in states in zones with at least 32 inches of snow a winter and at least 20 days of at least 1-inch snowfalls. Today only 55 percent do. (If you count the year-round residents of warm-winter Southern California and southern Arizona, then today more than half of all Americans experience non-severe winters, relatively speaking, with moderate snowfall or none at all.)

And the southward trend continues. Forty-four of the 50 fastest growing metropolitan areas are in no-snow or low-snow (less than 8 inches a year) climate zones.

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