Claire Sellnow, right, Lee Rowe, center, and Anna Sellnow shovel snow from the driveway of their Bangor home on Christmas Day in 2017. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

On Christmas Day last year, many Mainers likely unwrapped presents and ate their holiday dinner in short sleeves, maybe even with the windows open. It was around 60 degrees and raining throughout much of the state. By Maine standards, it was practically tropical.

This year, the extended forecast is calling for a few inches of snow to fall throughout the state on Dec. 25, starting in the early afternoon in southern Maine and continuing up the coast through the early morning on Dec. 26.

There’s a good chance we will have a white Christmas this year — but that’s a phenomenon that’s actually fairly rare, according to the data.

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac database of weather history, which is sourced from the National Climate Data Center, snow has only fallen on Christmas Eve or Day in Bangor four times in the past 20 years. As the effects of climate change continue, winters in general are slowly getting warmer, and precipitation in December, January and February is tending toward rain as much as it does snow. It may be that white Christmases are today more of an anomaly, rather than a regular occurrence.

To be clear: the National Weather Service’s official definition of a white Christmas is that there’s at least one inch of snow on the ground, regardless of whether it fell on Christmas Eve or two weeks prior, or whether it’s charming, fluffy, picture-perfect snow, or gray, sludgy, half-melted and then refrozen old snow.

But a more commonplace definition for a white Christmas may be snow that actually falls on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day — the kind of snow that you look out the window at, and think, “My goodness, how lovely.” Or, “Ugh, I have to drive in this.” Snow that’s the perfect backdrop for twinkling lights and chimneys diligently puffing away against the chill. The kind that Bing Crosby sang about. Fresh snow on Christmas; not week-old leftovers.

Four-year-old Maggie Metzler scoops up some freshly fallen snow with one of her Christmas gifts, a snowball maker, as her dad, Jake Metzler, uses a snow pusher to remove the white stuff from their driveway on Lincoln St. in Bangor Monday morning, Dec. 26, 2011. Credit: John Clarke Russ / BDN

2020 was the warmest Christmas on record for Maine, with a high of 57 in Caribou, 61 in Bangor and 55 in Portland. That’s not just a Christmas trend, either — according to a report released in 2020 by the University of Maine and the Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park, the six warmest years on record in Maine have occurred since 1998.

In 2019, the temperatures on Christmas were chilly, and there was snow on the ground in parts of Maine, but it was snow that had fallen a week earlier, and had already melted down considerably. In 2018, there again were a few inches of four-day-old snow on the ground in the northern half of the state, while in the southern half of the state, the ground was clear.

The last truly white Christmas was in 2017, when between 8 and 14 inches of snow fell across the state on Christmas morning, accompanied by wind gusts of up to 50 mph. Prior to that, a few inches of snow fell on Christmas Day in 2011 and 2012, and some snow fell on Christmas in 2004 as well.

That’s it, though. As much as we want to live in the perfect fantasy told of in “White Christmas” and other wintery holiday songs, the data just don’t back it up.

So this year, if the forecast holds and Maine does get some snow on Christmas, enjoy it. It might not happen again for a long time.

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Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.