I have had much occasion to observe the singular effect of the snow day on student populations (and others) which leads me to believe the previously unsung snow day should be elevated to official standing among the major holidays of the winter season.
The persuasion came to me early one blizzardy morning when my usually unimpressed teenage daughter, having just confirmed an expected school cancellation, let out a whoop of unmitigated joy, loud enough to wake the dead, and not heard from her since pre-adolescent Christmas mornings, and maybe (as memory fails me) not even then.
Since that remarkable outburst, I have paid close attention to the distinctive rituals and festival characteristics that mark the eve and morning of the Snow Day.
The night before a Snow Day is filled with fevered anticipation, not unlike the atmosphere on Christmas Eve. Speculation runs rampant, not on the nature of morrow’s gifts, but on the clearly hoped for and much-coveted cancellation of school.
Weather reports are suddenly fascinating to the indifferent. Since we lie on a tantalizing line between northern and southern weather effects, the game afoot is all the more gripping. To the north is feet, to the south mere inches. The radar patterns swirl the reluctant snow across the line of demarcation and bring forth cheers from a rapt audience.
Incoming phone calls from friends bring fresh rumors to bear: outlandishly, “at least two feet," she says; even more wildly, “school is already canceled," he says; and so on. Emissaries are sent frequently to check the rate of snowfall and report back with either disheartening or uplifting observations. The weather channel is consulted one more time.
Certain existential questions rest on determining if tomorrow will really be a snow day. To do or not to do homework, and can one stay up late and watch TV? To their credit, students apply all available resources and astute mental powers to arrive at an honest verdict. Teachers would be proud to see them weigh evidence, consult the authorities and aggressively go with their hunches, if it were not that the object of all this scientific application is only to avoid academic responsibility one more time.
The grinches of snow days are, of course, the superintendent of schools who has the decidedly unpleasant task of making the snow call and is rumored in some circles to have no heart at all, and the parents, who at those moments of greatest assurance, love to dampen with ominous asides of “Don’t count on it” and “You better do your homework”. These admonitions are usually followed by gloomy tales of the old days when school was never canceled, and long-suffering parents walked for miles through Siberian landscapes to gain that beacon of enlightenment ever shining in the storms of ignorance.
The distinguishing feature of the snow day is most certainly its uncertainty, as uncertain as the weather to be. Never absolutely sure, students must make their final bets, cross their fingers and wait for the morning. Quietly, so as not to alert the grinches, they will lay aside the homework and take in that extra TV special. If they are wrong, there will be consequences. But in that possibility lays all the compelling drama of the hour.
You do not sleep in on snow days. Every other school day you may try to squeeze in a few more minutes. But on snow days, you are awake at the crack of dawn, stiffly attentive, listening for the horn signal from the fire station. Two if by day, three if by night, or was it three if by dawn and then four? The farther away from the station, the harder it is to catch the sequence. Next recourse is the local radio stations. Too excited to wait through the latest top ten hits, you rush to the door and take a cursory peek at the street. It looks good, a solid, thick white blanket, unmarred by plow or sand, and it’s still snowing.
Doubts linger, wild irrational doubts like: the superintendent has gone mad reminiscing and has made walking miles to school in unseemly weather a graduation requirement; the school buses have been replaced by hummers and all terrain vehicles; yours is the last street to be plowed and the trucks are just turning up the street. So you call your best friend. At last, the final confirmation. It is official, another snow day. You crow, whoop, dance a jig, offer thanksgiving. It is a bit mysterious, all these exultant feelings over missing school. It’s better understood in the subliminal context of great escapes and miraculous deliverance.
Students are not the only celebrants of snow day. While teachers observe the day with fitting restraint and respectability, I have it from the horses’ mouth that they appreciate a snow day even more than students. Since it unwise to let students know that their mentors are not fiercely in favor of perfect attendance, I was told in whispered confidentiality, that snow days are great “catch up days." Even parents breathe a sigh of relief in not having to coax reluctant children out the door.
The only thing that can destroy the pleasures of a snow day are too many of them. Take a month into summer vacation; the first flush of freedom quickly fades into boredom. Even the afternoons of snow days can become tedious and unamusing. Idleness, it seems, is only a rare plucking in closest proximity to a previous activity. The farther it moves from comparison, the less glamorous it becomes, and, in the end, is every bit as burdensome as a busy schedule.
If this winter keeps producing snow days, it may be a great boon to promoting educational goals. Students may find themselves longing to go to school just to get a break from the no longer rare or extraordinary Snow Day.