Winter in California By STEVE KOPPMAN Commentary

Tuesday December 28, 2004

The saddest thing about California has to be its pathetic winters. Winter here is virtually meaningless. Whatever we may say about the East, at least there winter meant something: Crashing to the ground on ice-coated sidewalks, skidding happily across tractionless freeways, freezing to faintness as the bitter early morning cold cut off circulation to fingers and toes, friends calling from apartment windows before dropping snowballs in our faces, long hard afternoons of snow shoveling, Santa Claus hurtling through the slush in a one-horse open sleigh to Grandmother’s house to munch potato latkes. Like everything back East, there was so much to relish in retrospect, no matter how hard it may have been to take at the time. 

Our kids grow up on the West Coast without any of these unforgettable winter memories. To properly winterize our posterity, we need to develop, out of our own unique regional ecology, a wintry mystique appropriate to the stubbornly temperate clime in which we find ourselves. 

Webster’s, in fact, tells us the word “winter” comes from the root “to make wet,” NOT “to make cold.” Did Webster live on the West Coast? What a watershed this can be in California history, freeing us once and for all from the clutches of Eastern cultural imperialism. 

There’s no reason at all, for example, why Santa Claus should dash through snow, pulled by a bunch of stupid reindeer. Just like us, the land that gave birth to Christmas has no snow nor reindeer either. 

California Santa will wear a bright Gortex rainsuit and red and green flip-flops and hold an umbrella proudly aloft as he’s dragged through the wet winter night by a team of dogs in matching yellow rainhats. In the background, carolers will sing the great Irving Berlin song: 


I’m dreaming of a wet Christmas 

Like I remember in my brain 

Where treetops glisten and children listen 

To hear the foghorns in the rain 


I’m dreaming of a wet Christmas 

With every Christmas card I get 

May your days be merry, and yet 

May all your Christmases be wet. 


What glistening memories might the season evoke in our properly winterized descendants? Rainbows and rainbow trout, rain checks and water polo, buses racing through giant gutter puddles, merrily scattering passers-by, boots squeaking as they dash through the downpour in panicked flight; driving through pea-soup fog, water-fights with friends, wading meets and puddle poker, water witches and water nymphs, waterbugs and water rats, watermelons, water chestnuts and watercress. December showers bring March flowers. Children going door to door, salamanders in hand, offering to drain their neighbors’ walks, measuring the rainfall for school with their trusty buckets and rain gauges. 

And picture your classic California family on their yearly trek to a Christmas tree farm to chop down their own tree. Their rainshoes echo as they carry their recently claimed evergreen, bedecked already with brightly colored ornaments and beads of drizzle. As they emerge one by one out of the thick mist, a deep familiar voice intones: 


Chestnuts roasting in the open fog 

Rob Rain dripping on your den 

Yuletide carols sung by choirs 

Folks dressed up like firemen . . . 


Steve Koppman is an Oakland resident.