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Dreaming of a white Christmas

I have a snow shovel.

It’s not just any snow shovel, either. It’s an “Arctic Blast” brand shovel, with an oversized grip for my big puffy red winter mittens. It is covered with cobwebs.

It is my fantasy to get up early on Christmas morning, the last of the luminarias in my Albuquerque neighborhood long burned out, and shovel the walk before visitors arrive.

As they do most years, my friends at the National Weather Service crushed my spirit Monday, saying that this wish will likely again go unfulfilled. “If you’re looking for snow to fall on Christmas, it’s probably not your year,” meteorologist Jennifer Palucki said.

It was snowing in northern New Mexico on Monday afternoon, with more expected overnight, and I had half a mind to jump into the car and drive up to Taos with my snow shovel to see if anyone needed help. And a band of wet weather blew through Albuquerque, as if to taunt me and my shovel. But it was far too warm and left far too little in its wake to give me much hope.

By Wednesday, the snowstorms will be gone and we are likely to see a warm, dry Christmas in Albuquerque, with a forecast high around 50.

I should learn. The probability of a White Christmas in Albuquerque, as measured by visible flakes falling from the sky, is about 1 in 20, according to the Weather Service. The closest thing to a recent White Christmas came in 2011, when leftovers from an earlier storm were still hiding in the shadows in foothills neighborhoods.

I still remember, vividly, the one time as a kid growing up in suburban Los Angeles when it snowed. I was in fifth grade, and it was the Friday before Christmas, and my teacher wouldn’t let me go out and play with the other kids because I had a little bit of a cold.

I do not remember the teacher’s name, but I have not forgiven her.

In other words, I grew up in the place songwriter Irving Berlin had in mind when he penned the rarely sung first verse of his holiday classic, White Christmas: “The sun is shining, the grass is green, The orange and palm trees sway. There’s never been such a day in Beverly Hills, LA.

“But it’s December the 24th, And I am longing to be up North.”

It is all about that longing.

I have embraced the Irving Berlin myth. Several years ago my wife, Lissa Heineman (whose love for me includes a frequent “oh, brother” roll of the eyes), bought me a snow shovel. It was a response to the comical attempts of a former LA kid to shovel off our Albuquerque driveway and sidewalk after the big blast of December 2006, using a tool clearly unsuited to the task.

I expected mockery from my friend Dean Hanson, a Journal photographer and Minnesota native, when I came around the photo department Monday with a mug shot of my cobweb-covered snow shovel. But Dean was kind. He said he really regretted not bringing his snow shovel with him when he moved here. They’re great for cleaning up leaves after those fall windstorms, he said.

Dean also had a tip: when a storm’s coming, leave the snow shovel outside the front door. If the shovel’s too warm when you start, he said, it will melt the snow, then ice up.

The data nerds at Facebook scraped a vast quantity of data last summer from users’ feeds to try to determine what they said they were the most thankful for. As you would expect, friends, family and health topped the list. But when they sliced up the data to find out what New Mexicans were unusually grateful for – the things that separate use from the rest of the nation. At the top of that list: “the rain.”

We’re a dry place, so it’s natural that a longing for rain might set us apart. Our neighbors in Texas and Arizona, both suffering under drought last summer, shared our thankfulness for the occasional precipitation.

If the Facebook nerds reran their analysis at this time of year and we happened to have some snow during the window of time under study, they would find New Mexicans similarly enamored on the rare winter days when it snows.

Against meteorological reality, here in the desert, we have a longing.

UpFront is a daily front-page opinion column. Comment directly to John Fleck at 823-3916 or Go to to submit a letter to the editor.