Writing now in the midst of winter, I’d like to address a certain sort of winter day that flits about the calendar and weather reports in an almost fantastical and mythical fashion, that is, the Snow Day. What I’d like to suggest is that there are benefits stemming from the Snow Day that go beyond the securing of safety, even beyond the momentary rest and relief it offers. What I’d like to propose is the idea that the Snow Day makes possible some deep human benefits, such that the following considerations should be kept in mind by Catholic educators when deliberating whether to call for a Snow Day or not. (To provide some disclosure, I myself am a teacher at a Catholic secondary school, though I assure the reader that what follows issues from more than just interest in having more days at home throughout the winter.)
It is a clear cause for lament from many circles—whether it be the Wendell Berry devotees concerned with the manifold ways our detachment from the natural effects the societal and cultural, or the ecological activists alarmed by any number of perceived crises, or those present-day bearers of the spirit of the Poverello of Assisi—that there is so great a detachment between humanity and our natural environs. Not only do we little encounter unadulterated nature, we are numb to the sensibility of how our day-to-day actions affect the rest of creation. The reality at the heart of this lament is certainly found in a sweeping proportion in the minds and hearts of our young, school-age children (perhaps not in the youngest and most innocent, but certainly as the grades go on up). The Snow Day provides something of a fitting remedy for such a problem. Whereas we could in the face of snowfall try to plow through—literally—the limits and challenges imposed by the natural world, we can alternatively allow ourselves to rest in, and accept, even if only for a day, what nature has placed in our way, affirming the very real connection between ourselves and the rest of the created order.
Also expressed through the Snow Day is the subtle admission to students that the school day—and the work contained therein—is not the most important feature of their lives. Now, for those reading this, years, perhaps decades removed from your own school days, this point is clear: there are many, many facets and features of life that are immeasurably more important than grades and tests and transcripts. Place yourself in the spot of the average high school student, however, and there will be present this acknowledgement, of course, friends, family, sport, all of this is so very important. But then, there is the crushing presence of grades and schoolwork, that even putting aside the ever-present procrastination and laziness amongst many a student; these items represent the Future (capital F), its glamour or its bleakness. For, as the accepted narrative runs, as goes high school so goes college, as goes college so goes career, as goes career, well, so goes life. The criteria for success of course has become flattened, with numbers and other metrics carrying the day, and never mind Newman grumbling in the grave at this half-baked educational approach, but it is easy to see how the daily enterprise of many a student can become a dour one at times. In comes the Snow Day with its subtle yet ringing clarity: all this, assignments, homework, essays; it can wait, go, play, enjoy.
And this brings us to another beneficial feature of the Snow Day: its eucatastrophic quality, to borrow a Tolkienian phrase. J. R. R. Tolkien formulates this term to refer to the sort of event in a story when, in the midst of deep darkness, at the point where despair seems the only rational recourse, there is the sudden turn—the glorious turn—toward the good, where spontaneous joy bursts in and one wonders why there was ever any fear. Can we venture to say that such a feature of the literary landscape brings us, in some fashion, up against something of the Easter mystery, no matter how subtle or unspoken? And if literature can do this, is it outlandish to think that something in the life of a school child might bring about the same, that is, the sudden onrush of joy in the face of gathering darkness? (If this seems rhetorically a bit much then I petition the reader to put herself in the galoshes of the nervous ninth-grader on the verge of a major exam.) In the end, it might be the Snow Day that serves, in some undeclared, unacknowledged way, as an emotive preamble to faith marked by the joy of Resurrection, or even a deepening of the same.
So, for these, and I am sure more, reasons the impulse toward the Snow Day should be considered as a bit more imperative. (Of course that is, so long as the joyful release of Summer Break—and all of its emotive benefits—is not pushed-back by its wintery counterpart.) Yes, class time is of great importance, but the educator surely must realize that on occasion the Snow Day is a better instructor than any teacher, for, truly, it leads its students to proclaim with the Psalmist: “ice and snow, bless the Lord!”