(by Hanna Stasiuk, first published in 2016)
“You live where?”
“Ipswich, MA. It’s about 45 minutes north of Boston.
“Oh. Well then you must get a lot of snow.”
“Unfortunately? What are you talking about? Christmas must be great! I am so jealous.”
As a college freshman, I had this conversation at least twice a week. Someone asks where I am from, and as soon as they hear Massachusetts all they can talk about is snow, snow, snow. “Is it always really cold?” “Is every Christmas a white Christmas?” “Do you go outside and catch snowflakes with your tongue and take pictures and make snow angels and snowmen and go sledding like in movies?”
As someone who has always preferred lazy July days on Crane Beach to winter weather, my answer is always something like “Yes, it’s cold. It’s cold every day. And the snow piles up until you cannot see to get out of your driveway. After a few days it gets all slushy and turns brown. Trust me, you are not missing much.”
But… do I really believe that? After countless conversations with my roommate from San Diego, who says she’d give anything to see snow on Christmas morning, I realized that there is something special about the holiday season in Ipswich. From town traditions to icy weather, no one does December quite like we do.
For years, I huddled next to my sisters at the wharf’s edge, anticipating Santa’s arrival. A cup of hot cocoa clutched in my sticky hands, I listened as excitement echoed through the frostbitten crowd. Clouds of breath danced around us. Candy canes collected at our feet. I was Billy from the Polar Express. Charlie from the Santa Clause. I was every kid who had ever mailed a letter to the North Pole, full of holiday spirit. Then Santa emerged, zipping in on his boat sleigh. He flailed his arms in the grandest of greetings. We all cheered. Once his black boots touched shore, we started our march toward town. Jingle bells rang to the rhythm of our footsteps.
After completing this trek, we gathered at the tree on Town Hill. It stood what seemed like 1000 feet tall, braving the wintry wind. Snow frosted its branches like vanilla butter cream. Then, there a count down. Anticipation flooded my stomach. 3-2-1. A pop. Next, a flood of gold, silver, and white. Light ricocheted off the chubby bulbs, the dangling stars, the carefully knotted ribbons. It overtook the purple sky. It glistened in the snow. It glowed like the moon. We all stood together, admiring the site.
Later, I took a seat on Santa’s Lap. I whispered all my wishes in his ear. Polly Pockets, Uno cards, Nintendo DS games, I wanted it all. I drank more hot cocoa with extra whipped cream. I ate more candy canes. I counted the wreaths coiled around telephone poles, candles perched in the center. It was cold, but I did not care. I was overcome with holiday joy.
The Jingle Bell Walk was one of my favorite Ipswich Christmas events. It was not the only one I looked forward to, though. From tumbling down Cable Hill in my sled to driving through the Galicki’s grand light display, Ipswich had it all. I belted out the lyrics to Rudolph at the Doyon Sing-a-Long six years in a row. I prepared bags of Reindeer food at Small World Preschool. Christmas Eve was always cold enough to wear footsie pajamas, and icy enough to be confined to the kitchen to make sugar cookies. December 25th never failed to be white. Santa’s sleigh tracks lined the roof. Snowfall was the backdrop to a brunch of french toast casserole. Everything was like out a movie.
So am I still a warm weather person? Most definitely. But was I wrong to tell all of my college friends that they are not missing out? Yes, I was. You are missing something if you are not here for the holidays. We’ve got tradition. We’ve got Santa on a boat. We’ve got snow. We’ve got Christmas here in Ipswich.
(featured image: wreath on a door in Ipswich, photo by Peter Bubriski)