Saturday, February 11, 2012

THE LITTLE ICE AGE ( OR CHRISTMAS REVISITED)

Have you ever heard of "the Little Ice Age"? I hadn't until yesterday when I was reading my Farmers' Almanac. But, more on that later (bear with me).

I know Christmas is long gone, but you obviously know that most of the U.S. has less than a 50% chance of seeing snow on Christmas in any given year. Of course, in many areas, the likelihood is much lower.


Then, why did the writers of all those wonderful carols and songs use words such as "dashing through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh" and "please have snow and mistletoe".

Of course, the holiday as we know it today saw a renaissance during the 19th century. In both Britain and the U.S. there was a push to reintroduce many of the long abandoned Christmas traditions.

Charles Dickens, Washington Irving, and Clement C. Moore played a large role in the recasting of the ideal Christmas. And thanks to the intermingling of cultures in the U.S., and the marriage of Queen Victoria to German-born Prince Albert, Germanic Christmas traditions found wider appeal.

By the time the 19th century was over, Christmas was moved from being out of favor in the U.S., to being an important national holiday.

Now, while all of this was happening the planet was in the thick of a phenomenon that climatologists have named "the Little Ice Age". This was a period of time from the mid-16th century until the late 19th century, when the entire world was much cooler than it is now. During this time glaciers grew larger and winters were longer and colder across the globe, and snow fell in areas where it once hadn't.


Canals and rivers in Great Britain and the Netherlands were frequently frozen deeply enough to support ice skating and winter festivals. The Norse colonies in Greenland starved and vanished (by the 15th century), as crops failed and livestock could not be maintained through increasingly harsh winters. The first River Thames Frost Fair was in 1607. In the winter of 1780 New York Harbor froze, allowing people to walk from Manhattan to Staten Island.


Many springs and summers were cold and wet, although there was great variability between years and groups of years. Crop practices throughout Europe had to be altered to adapt to the shortened, less reliable growing season, and there were many years of dearth and famine.

In North America, the early European settlers reported exceptionally severe winters. For example, in 1607-1608, ice persisted on Lake Superior until June. The journal of Pierre de Troyes, Chevalier de Troyes, who led an expedition to James Bay (between Quebec and Ontario) in 1686, recorded that James Bay was still littered with so much floating ice that he could hide behind it in his canoe on July 1.


So, thanks to the Little Ice Age, white Christmases were much more common 150 years ago (when many of our Christmas traditions were taking shape) than they are today!

Sources: Farmers' Almanac, Lewiston, ME and Wikipedia

12 comments:

Liz said...

I like the images you used, especially the one of the painting by Pieter Bruegel! We have a lot of frozen canals right now in the Netherlands because of the very cold weather and a lot of villages look just like his painting.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Liz

Mick said...

Little Ice Age or no Im ready for Summer! Now can you tell me, did you add that border to the pictures in this post? or are they actually vintage border on vintage picture paper?!

busymartha said...

That was very interesting. I live in Victoria BC and we are lucky to see snow maybe once a year. We have had several blizzards in my lifetime, the worst on my wedding day! It's so funny that people think Canada has so much snow all the time. Our weather is the same as Washington state or Oregon coast, windy and rainy for sure! Thanks for sharing, Marilyn.

Margaret said...

Neat post! I live on Long Island and we are used to snow in the WInter-- though we don't get a great deal, we get our share of snowstorms. SO far this year, we have 3"...a little sad! Maggie-Maggie's Lil' Fixins

DearHelenHartman said...

Had no idea but it does make sense as to why all the snowy images are connected to our idea of an old fashioned Christmas.

Carol Ann said...

Great post! I enjoyed it and learned something. Thanks!

Zootsuitmama said...

Well, the snow is pretty, but glad it's back then and not now so much! Makes you wonder how anything survived! Brrr...

magie said...

Very interesting, thanks for sharing :) I grew up in Alberta as a child and we always had a good amount of snow in winter..I use to love it.

Holly- Cutie Pie Cottage said...

Interesting history! Thanks, Sue! ♥

Sam I Am...... said...

I like to learn something new every day and I learned LOTS today! Thank you,Sue, I really enjoyed that. We've had a really warm Winter down here in AR but now we're supposed to get a "little ice age" starting to night and into tomorrow. We get ice not snow which usually takes the power out. Last time it was 8 days! If you don't see me on here....you'll know why! LOL!

Kaye Swain - SandwichINK for Grandparents and Caregivers said...

Very interesting. I'll have to share that with the grandkids. It will go well with some of their school work they are working on. :)

❀~Myrna~❀ said...

I knew most of these facts , but I had never consciously put them together to explain why we want & expect a white Christmas , Great Post !