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White Christmas

Christmas is nearly always portrayed in white, not only in fairytales, but also in the world of retail. However, snow is rarely seen at Christmas time on the Swiss plateau. This was also the case in former times.


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In contrast to the romantic idea of Yuletide snow, green Christmases are actually more common than white ones on the Swiss Plateau. For instance, there was no snow at Christmas in 60% of the observed years from 1931 onwards in the central and eastern Swiss lowlands. In western and northwestern Switzerland, the number was even higher, with a green Christmas in 75% of the years.

At low elevations on the southern side of the Alps, it is also predominantly green at Christmas. Since measurements began in 1931, Lugano did not have snow at Christmas in over 80% of the years.

White Christmas – not commonplace even in the past

It is not only in modern times that the lack of a white Christmas in lower-lying areas has been bemoaned. The following remark can be found in a weather record from 1911 to 1914 from the canton of Lucerne: “Genuine winter cold and snow prevalence have been almost unknown to the Christmas month for some years now. Christmas poems speaking of cold, snow and ice would no longer fit. However, I heard someone say: Today, Christmas is celebrated outdoors; the little tree must burn in the garden outside, where we sing our songs and recite the poems.”

From: Arnet N., 1917, Uebersicht der Witterung in den vier Jahren 1911 bis 1914 (Summary of the Weather in the Four Years from 1911 to 1914). Based on the observations of the Lucerne Meteorological Station. Separate publication from the Mitteilungen der Naturforschenden Gesellschaft Luzern (Reports of the Lucerne Naturalist Society). Volume VII.

True white Christmas in the mountains

At higher elevations, green Christmases are rare. At an elevation of 1600 m, Davos actually does experience the dream of a truly white Christmas every year (Fig. 2). The only exception since measurements began in 1931 was December 2016, which had very little snow. On the morning of 24th December 2016, there was no snow at the Davos weather station. There was a very modest amount of snow on 25th December (3 cm) and on 26th December (1 cm).

Even at the Einsiedeln weather station, at the considerably lower elevation of around 900 m, it has only been green on a handful of Christmases since measurements began. In the majority of years, it was white on all three days of Christmas. At this lower-lying site, there has been a notable trend towards green Christmases in recent years. Climate change, with its milder winters and higher snowfall limit, is quite apparent here.