Of First Snow

The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event.

You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different,

and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found?

–  J. B. Priestley

Without a doubt, winter is irrevocably and undeniably my favourite season, for a myriad of reasons: Christmas would be around the corner (for the Northern Hemisphere, that is), I almost always prefer cold to warm weather and, who doesn’t have romantic notions of a White Christmas, cuddling with your loved one by the fire with the aroma of roasting chestnuts permeating the whole house? Why, even Winter is my best-loved concerto from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. ‘Nuff said.

Oh wait, there is but this one little problem – that we hail from a region that doesn’t get to experience winters (we should be very worried if we do). The closest we have are the northeast monsoon rains from December to March that help bring down the ambient temperature by some: from an average of 32°C to 27°C. Snow, the all-essential element for a white Christmas, is however conspicuously absent.

There is a famous saying: ”If the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, Muhammad must go to the mountain”. Since we can’t have things our way, we must then bow down to the inevitable. Well yes, we have since long resigned to our fate; while we don’t get winters here, our beloved country has provided us with much in return. For the winter experience, we always have the option of travelling.

There is snow, and then there is first snow. Apparently, the Koreans decided that first snow (첫눈) should be set apart from other snows, and the logic of this completely eludes me. If you’d ever watched Winter Sonata (겨울 연가), you would have noticed that the motif of first snow was repeatedly emphasised in the said Korean drama series, especially whenever the two lovers met. It must be a certain significance known only to the Koreans.

Determined to uncover the basis of the Koreans’ obsession over first snow, I delved deeper with the aid of the internet. Nothing useful showed up, possibly because I typed and searched in English – I have a strong hunch the concept must be best explained in Hangul (한글), which unfortunately, is a language I was not familiar with at the time of writing this post. From what little information unearthed, I deduced that first snow could refer to first love, meeting of lovers or that witnessing first snow with your beloved means that this will be an everlasting relationship.

Whichever the case, fact is everyone gets excited over the first snowfall of the winter. Years back during our mini honeymoon to Korea, we witnessed Seoul’s first fall of snow while shopping along Sinchon Walking Street (신촌동). Understandably, we tourists hailing from the Tropics were squealing away in delight, but I was surprised to find the locals equally excited: some started dialling and speaking on their mobile phones informing their loved ones about it while others got busy taking snapshots.

Considering the romantic connotation of first snow, I take witnessing it on our mini honeymoon as a good augury for our marriage.

South Korea has a temperate climate with 4 distinct seasons. Their winters are notoriously long, cold and dry while their summers are short, hot and humid. They are however, less vulnerable to typhoons than Japan, Taiwan or the Eastern Coast of China. The country is warmest in July and coolest in January. On balance, South Korea sees 116 days annually with measurable frost, and on average, one can see frost throughout the whole of every January.


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