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What exactly constitutes a “white Christmas”?

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Despite the resounding success of songs that rave about a snowy December 25th, a snowy Christmas morning is a rarity around the world. Canada is one of only a handful of countries where the likelihood of waking up to snow on the ground after a visit from Santa Claus is relatively high.

But what exactly qualifies as a “white Christmas”? It turns out that Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), like any good bureaucracy, has a strict rule for this special designation.

Canada, white Christmas, climatology

Canada, white Christmas, climatology

Snow on the ground is part of Christmas celebrations in Canada.

In most major cities from coast to coast, the odds of seeing snow on the morning of December 25 are better than flipping a coin. In the north and across much of the Prairies, snow is virtually guaranteed.

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The only regions where white Christmases are more of a treat than a tradition are the milder corners of the country, including southwestern British Columbia, southwestern Ontario, and parts of the Atlantic provinces. A snowstorm that hit Metro Vancouver early on December 25, 2021, was notable because it was the city's first snowy Christmas in more than a decade.

ECCC meteorologists define a white Christmas as one in which an official snow depth of at least 2 cm is reported by 7:00 a.m. on December 25th.

It doesn't matter if the snow cover is weeks old or if it's freshly falling while children are unwrapping the presents that Santa left for them. If observers measure 2 cm of snow on the ground that morning, it's officially a white Christmas.

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ECCC also documents which cities experience a “perfect Christmas,” which occurs when there is 2 cm of fresh snow on the ground on the morning of the big holiday. While white Christmases are relatively common, a perfect Christmas is rarer.

While cities like Regina and Thunder Bay are virtually guaranteed to have snow on December 25th most years, between 1955 and 2007 these communities experienced a perfect Christmas only about a third of the time.

Thumbnail image courtesy of Alessandro Bellani/Getty Images. Creative #: 1364073068.