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