Canada’s magic number: What exactly makes for a 'white Christmas'?

Canada is one of the world’s only countries mostly covered in snow on Christmas morning. But how much snow, exactly, constitutes a ‘white Christmas’?

Despite the roaring success of songs that croon about a snow-covered December 25th, a snowy Christmas morning is a rarity around the world. Canada is one of just a handful of countries that routinely has decent odds of waking up with snow on the ground after Santa’s visit.

But what exactly counts as a ‘white Christmas’, anyway? It turns out, like any good bureaucracy, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) has a hard-and-fast rule governing that special designation.

canada white christmas climatology

Snow on the ground is a mainstay of Canadian Christmases.

Most major cities from coast to coast have better than a coin-flip’s chance of seeing snow on the ground on the morning of December 25th, with snow a virtual certainty across the North and much of the Prairies.

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The only regions where white Christmases are more of a treat than a tradition are the country’s milder corners, including southwestern British Columbia, southwestern Ontario, and portions of the Atlantic provinces. A snowstorm that blanketed Metro Vancouver early on December 25, 2021, was noteworthy as it was the city’s first snowy Christmas in more than a decade.

ECCC’s forecasters define a white Christmas as one where there’s an official report of at least 2 cm of snow on the ground at 7:00 a.m. on December 25th.

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It doesn’t matter whether the snowpack is weeks old or if there’s fresh snow falling as kids tear open the gifts that Santa left for them. If observers measure 2 cm of snow on the ground that morning, it’s officially a white Christmas.

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ECCC also documents which cities experience a “perfect Christmas,” which occurs when there’s 2 cm on the ground while fresh snow is falling on the morning of the big day. While a white Christmas is relatively common, a perfect Christmas is more elusive.

While cities like Regina and Thunder Bay are virtually assured to have snow on the ground on December 25th most years, those communities only notched a perfect Christmas about one-third of the time between 1955 and 2007.

Thumbnail image courtesy of Alessandro Bellani/Getty Images. Creative #: 1364073068.