Snow Day Rituals?

By Kevin Kamberg of Forest Grove, Oregon. Kevin describes himself as a "blogger, craftsman, and single parent, blue collar stiff."

Listening to NPR's "Talk of the Nation" today I heard them close out the show with a segment with guest Mark Dursin, author of "The Secret Power of Pajamas" and had the best belly-laugh I've had in a very long time.

Dursin teaches highschool English and wrote the piece in the Hartford Courant about Snow Day... um... rituals practiced by his students. Intrigued by what his students told him (and his kids too), he did some research and found that with only minor variations there is a single Snow Day ritual practiced by students up and down the East Coast and as far inland as Tennessee - the "Pajamas-Inside-Out, Spoon-Under-the-Pillow-Snow-Day Ritual." The point of course being that if students faithfully practice this ritual then the following day with be declared a Snow Day and they won't have to go to school.

The ritual involves basically what it's name implies: The student has to go to bed wearing his or her pajamas inside-out and place a spoon under their pillow. Some regional variations require licking the spoon first or eating an oatmeal cookie first. A few even involve wearing the pajamas both inside-out and backwards. But the essentials remain the same. Oddly, though... when told of a different Snow Day ritual tradition involving throwing ice cubes into a toilet, these kids thought that was just silly!

That got me to wondering about any Snow Day rituals here on the Left Coast. Although my family moved four different times between when I was in first grade and when I graduated from highschool, (all were in Oregon) I don't remember any Snow Day rituals. But I attended private parochial schools the whole time and maybe that explains why I was never exposed to this. Both of my daughters have attended public schools and to my knowledge they've never practiced any Snow Day rituals. But in this global economy with people moving all over the place chasing jobs, there's got to be some Snow Day rituals in Oregon.

What, if any, kind of Snow Day rituals were you raised with? Do your kids have any?

  • Eric Parker (unverified)

    I never had a snow day because where I grew up, we went to school no matter what. Every time I see Portland cancel school for just a little bit of snow, I think how wimpy, uptight, and over-eggagerating you guys are.

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    Growing up in Los Angeles, the closest we ever came to a snow day was the period in early 1994 when our schools shut down after the Northridge Earthquake.

    Since we didn't wish for earthquakes, and it never snowed, our luck was slim-to-none for closure. Although my high school did close once for asbestos, which was both unexpected and mortifying.

  • Miles (unverified)

    My snow day ritual involved finishing all of my homework the night before an anticipated snowfall. Although I rarely had the self-discipline to do it, when I did it always snowed.

    Failure to finish my homework in anticipation of a snow day, which was a far more frequent occurrence, worked exactly the opposite. There were many a rainy, 34-degree Oregon morning when I woke up in an "oh sh*t!" panic.

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    I actually submitted this piece yesterday which is when I heard the NPR segment. Thinking that it wouldn't be posted here I went ahead and posted it at my blog.

    One of our regular readers chimed in with the following diabolical observation:

    In Tahoe, snow days were officially scheduled for the week after Easter break. That way, if they were not used before that date, kids and teachers got time off; tended to make kids root for keeping school open during storms.
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    LOL - that's a funny story, Miles. Was it just you or did you face peer pressure from other students? If so, was your teacher aware of the ritual?

  • paulh (unverified)

    Word to Eric Parker...You don't say where you grew up. I missed ZERO days of school during my early yars in Chicago. Yes, missed many school days in Portland but that is because, in part, due to the topography of the city. Add in the fact that heavy snows were accompanied by severe east winds and drifting created nightmare sized snowdrifts. Sorry to snow on your parade...I really get tired of the outrageous arrogance of carpetbaggers who (most likely) have moved here from "flat states" and then wonder why we close schools. It is a public safety issue. Could there be options? Of maybe having kids walk down from hilly areas to flat areas...on and on. Otherwise your insulting remarks are BS. Move outta here if you don't like it..please!

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    I've already had more snow days going to college here than I ever did in MN, and it wasn't for lack of snow back there. Once there was a blizzard and the streets couldn't get plowed in time, the other time the governor cancelled schools when the temp dropped to -20 and after he took a lot of flak for that it never happened again. Of course there's no snow plows out here...

  • Eric Parker (unverified)

    La Grande, Baker City, and Pendleton. I am definately not a carpetbagger.

    My Fiance grew up in the foothills of the Rockies in Central Alberta (Kaninaskas Country). She never had a snow day either.

  • paulih (unverified)

    Your remarks remain outrageous, insulting and are BS. And you did NOT respond to what I said. The topography / geography and wind factors in the Metro area cause the snow days in most cases. That, coupled with public safety concerns.

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    OMG. This isn't really going to devolve into a shouting match is it? Haven't we had enough of that around here? This post was supposed to be a respite.

  • MCT (unverified)

    Nice to see a post here that's a little on the light side...tho one comment managed to make it a tad xenophobic. I went to middle & HS in Wisconsin. In an era when skirts and dresses were the dress code for girls. Unless there was a visibility problem in the heart of a blizzard there were NO snow days. Just cold dark mornings of slogging to the bus stop in sub-freezing temps, ass-deep drifts, legs above boots and knee socks (very trendy in the 60's) bright red and without feeling save pricking pins and needles. You were considered very un-cool to wear slacks under the skirt, to remove before going to class.

    So when I moved here in the late 70's I was stunned and delighted with how Portland handles an inch of snow on the ground. The whole town shuts down! (or used to more so than now.) Very civilized in my book. Of course not possible in icy cold states, but here it presents a perfect op to go skiing....or otherwise sandbag.

    Then there is that part of me that thanks God I have an excuse not to get out on the road with a bunch of drivers who have no clue how to drive on snow and ice. BTW, Wisconsin banned studded tires over 25 years ago. When is Oregon gonna do that and help cut down on the taxpayers cost of road repair?

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    What an odd thing.

    Where I grew up in North Portland, I didn't hear any of my peers having a snow day ritual. If it snowed or was icy enough, school was cancelled, and no odd behaviors were reported attached to that.

    Where my son has grown up here in Prineville, same story. Snow/ice days are very rare here. In the 18 years I have lived here, I can recall only 4 or 5 days where they shut down school due to weather. When the City was half drowned in the flood of 1998, schools were open. When it snows, school is open. Oddly, just a couple weeks ago, the Crook Co. School District shut down school for one day on the basis of a weather forecast for ice. The ice didn't happen. A couple days back we had 2 inches of snow, and with continuous sub-freezing weather (it was 5 degrees out this morning), most of it is still around. But school is open.

    My son and his friends also didn't have any odd behaviors associated with snow days. No rain dances for floods, no spoons under pillow for snow - they just don't work here. They just go to school. A foot of snow? So what. They go.

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    You're right, Steve... it is an odd thing. I had to chuckle as I read your comment because it made me feel less out of touch for not having ever heard of such rituals. Here I was thinking that my parochial school upbringing had isolated me from some rite of passage that I could never go back and experience afresh.

    I wonder what the existance of apparently multi-generational Snow Day rituals on the East Coast say about them? It's clearly a cultural thing for them.

    How odd indeed.

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    Like Ben, I grew up in Los Angeles (actually in Encino in the San Fernando Valley, dudes) and since we didn't have the luxury of snow days, we just cut class and went to the beach. I love living in Oregon, 15 years and counting, and would never consider returning to L.A., but I do miss three things: the warm beaches, Dodger Baseball and the Hollywood Bowl; that's about it. And I've evolved into a webfoot by now: Go Portland Beaver Baseball!

  • Keith (unverified)

    Leave it to a bunch of liberals to turn a post about snow days into an argument on who pee-pee is bigger. They do seem to have a lot of ah snow days? More like ice days. I think the reason for this is public safety but also has something to do with not being taught in Drivers-Ed about that little thing called stopping distance. Uh... yes I am from the flat-lands not to far from chicago. And I remember having many, many, many, snow days, severe storm days, severe heat days, tornado days and severe cold days. More than they had here. I wonder if someone could fact check our BS and get the lowdown who really has more "snow days"?

  • Chris Greiveldinger (unverified)

    I'm a navy brat, so we moved around a bit. I don't have any recollection of snow days when we lived in Iceland <grin>. We had school off for other reasons there.

    We spent several years living in a suburb of Washington, D.C. My folks, both Wisconsin natives, were always amazed when 'the big snow storm' was forecast. There would be a run on the grocery stores to buy all the milk, bread, and toilet paper available!

    I don't recall any rituals to produce a snow day, though.

  • Miles (unverified)

    Was it just you or did you face peer pressure from other students? If so, was your teacher aware of the ritual?

    I remember at least one or two teachers, when threat of snow was looming, telling us that if we all finished the term paper (or whatever) that night, school would assuredly be cancelled the next day. And if school wasn't cancelled, we knew one of our peers had let us all down by failing to get it done.

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    I grew up outside of Boston & we had lots of snow days, also sometimes heat days in June. I have never heard of these East Coast rituals. The parochial schools tended to follow the public school leads & on my street we all mixed after school & if anyone had such a ritual I'd guess it might have been some of the Catholic kids who came from ahnest-ta-gahd New England families, unlike my Chicago-migrating-East parents. (Eastward Ho!)

    The best was the year when we had 24 inches of snow that shut stuff down for a couple of days, and then another storm that finished off that week, and then we had a week of inter-term break with no new snow but lots of time to play in it, and the mirable dictu the final Sunday of break we got another string of blizzards & lost that week too! Three weeks! Wickid pissa cool! Of course we paid in June (the school year budgeted for snow days pretty generously, but that broke the bank), but pretty much it was worth it.

    The cool thing about the big blizzards was that with the combination of the snow plow ridges along the sides of the road (2 ft snow gives you 3-4 four foot ridges) and making big mounds at the end of the driveway when you shoveled, you could make these great cave forts and sometimes tunnels down the side of the road. The forts were pretty much annual, the tunnels only every few years.

    When I came out to Portland for college at first I thought it was funny about people abandoning their cars on the freeway for a little snow. It wasn't an ice storm, just 3 or 4 inches of snow. (My first ice storm gave me a different kind of respect for Portland winters, of course. Also we never had freezing fog to my knowledge around Boston.)

    But of course I didn't have a car in college. Even so, after a little while light started to penetrate the dimness around my skull, and to dawn on Marblehead, as the saying goes, & I started to figure out stuff like: in the Boston area we got trained about driving in snow, including stopping distance as mentioned, but also speed, pumping the brakes when stopping, turning into skids, etc. (This was before anti-lock brakes. And of course there was the classic maneuver described in the Boston Driver's Handbook in the 1980s about how to turn a corner at a T-stop in the snow: "Approach intersection. Signal left turn. Turn left. Fishtail and bounce off of parked car. Correct. Proceed." With a great little illustration.) Around Boston everyone had snow tires, not just the skiers & people who had to drive up the Gorge or through the passes to visit relatives (Portland-centric here, I know, sorry). In Boston they salted the roads to melt the snow & ice (I was amazed at the number of well-preserved old cars in Oregon, due to lack of bottoms falling out from salt induced corrosion -- it was almost like Cuba!). Around Boston they had lots of snow plows and big plowing budgets. And so on.

    Gradually I came to see that Oregonians were wise & my laughter foolish -- they knew their own conditions, they knew their limits in equipment and experience, and they knew the limits of their neighbors as well. So today, being now an Oregonian, I drive like one, or avoid driving like one when I can, when it snows.

    Around Boston I think we had a lot of snow days because on the one hand we really did get blizzards that made it impossible for teachers to get to schools in time or safely, even when I could have walked it, (we pretty regularly walked a mile or so to the high school on snow days to sled down the high school hill, which was big enough to be worth it & safe at the bottom) but on the other hand it tended to warm up in between. Sometimes we'd get weeks of 70 degree weather in January (one year it hit 90 one day).

    In other words, it wasn't like places where once the snow comes, it pretty much stays, & you're talking permanent below freezing. (I went to school in Maine for a year before coming out to Oregon -- my hair used to freeze on the way to the dining hall from the dorm.)

    A grown-up Boston ritual, in the actual city, that I think still goes on, was sort of like taping areas for the Rose Parade, but more serious. If you lived in town and had on-street parking, after a good snow storm you had to dig out -- get however many inches off your actual car itself, then dig the snow in front and in back (running the engine to warm it up in the meantime), plus whatever the initial snow plowing had piled up against the car.

    So when you finally finished, there's this open space that's going to be left when you move your car out, created by mixing your labor with the snow, as the classical labor theory of value economists & John Locke might have said. So you have a moral right to that space, which may be secured by placing beach chairs or garbage cans in the space.

    And if you come back and find that someone has taken it, well, that's what quarters are for, and keys, isn't it?

    This was mainly an issue in the biggest storms, when it would take a couple-three days to get the plowing done, the first rounds would just be keeping the traffic lanes clear, then there would be alternate side of the street no-parking to allow plowing, even numbered days no parking on the right, odd numbered none on the left, or vice versa -- and also an issue in the smaller streets that didn't get plowed as much or more than once.

    Blizzards usually happened not too many degrees below freezing. Anything below 25 degrees usually meant high pressure and clear skies. So the worst thing for driving and parking was when you'd get snow, then it would partly melt, but then refreeze during the night and stay cold. Then you could get slush turned into ice ridges that were almost as bad as driving on a tertiary "road" in Swaziland (a comparison I only gained much later), and cleared parking spaces were hot property indeed.

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    Interesting, Chris.

    So, if I might synthesize your observations with those of the author I cited... might a reasonable hypothesis be that Snow Day rituals are not universal even on the East Coast but that where they are practiced there is a high degree of uniformity in terms of the rituals being followed?

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    LOL - I love it, Miles. I'm sure my retired highschool teacher father would too.

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    Seems reasonable Kevin. If you think about widespread children's games & songs, & regional variations of them, they seem to work that way. Their reproduction over generations has always fascinated me.

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    Yeah, the apparent multi-generational aspect of this story fascinated me too. On the NPR show a Mom called in to relate how all five of her kids follow the ritual and that each child took it upon him/herself to pass it on to the next oldest child as they came of age sufficient to participate. The Mom was clearly amused by the whole thing and actively participated. She didn't actually say that she'd passed it to them. But from the way she was talking it sure seemed like that had to have been what happened.

  • Chuck Butcher (unverified)

    Ive lived in Baker City for just about 20 yrs now, I remember a couple times the schools closed, ice at least once. There were more times they didn't bring in the kids from the mountains. paulh, I said mountains, not Portland hills.

    When I was at MTU on the Keewenaw Peninsula on the UP in MI it closed for the first time in over 100yrs, 3' of snow in 8 hrs, backed by 70mph winds and -34F did the job. The 3' wasn't the deal, it was the 26' drifts across the roads that did the job. But, then, 300" from last thaw to first thaw weren't uncommon. That is actually some snow, I don't care where you're from.

  • LT (unverified)

    "MTU on the Keewenaw Peninsula on the UP in MI it "

    As a native of Detroit, when we talked about the Upper Peninsula / Northern Michigan, we meant really cold and snowy!

  • Ms Mel Harmon (unverified)

    I grew up in Oklahoma and we didn't have any snow day rituals to speak of. We did get some days off, but not for snow. We got off when we had ice storms, which was a lot of fun.

    One thing we had that I haven't heard of in other places: we started school in early/mid-August (never later than the 15th) and our school system didn't have AC and it was usually between 100 and 110 degrees out, which means the inside temps rose to 115 degrees or so. The first day of school was about picking up books, meeting teachers, going to meetings, and --the highlight of the day and actually the first thing of the day---the mandatory meeting in the gym where the local fire department and health department would give the "here are the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke and here's how you treat them" spiel. Cause we always had at least two students a week through August that collapsed and got hauled off in an ambulance.

    But hey, no snow days really.

  • Ed Brown (unverified)

    Are we considering the cost to the entire area of each of these 2 hour delays or snow days?

    I can only imagine what the cost in lost time and productivity, additional day care or other arrangements, lost sales or business, etc. that each and everyone of these days really cost you and me. It has to be in the millions of dollars each time we let the school administrators get away with this travesty.

  • Ashgurl5 (unverified)

    I want a Snow day so badly tomrrow because it will drive my mom crazy and because we have a Egyptian Test tomrrow

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