The Snow Day is a Southern Institution. Annually it affects our lives spent together in dramatic fashion. Schools close, milk is scant, and manufacturers of bread become wealthy overnight. As a life long Southerner the Snow Day is a cultural attribute of Southern life that I have come to adamantly defend.
This aspect of the Southern experience is derided by my Northern friends. Southerners are not far behind in their skepticism of the institution’s merit, often mocking it as a further sign of our ineptitude, right behind obesity and miseducation of our youth.
Many blame the Southern reaction to snow on its type, “It’s just icier here than other places.” And this is true, as our snow is often disappointingly inane as a conduit for sleds or glue for forts. Often economic impracticality is blamed for the lack of snow clearing equipment, and thus used as a justification for Southerner’s unwillingness to leave their neighborhoods at even the mention of snow. Finally it is often assumed that laziness is at the core of the Southerner's unwillingness to rise out of bed early, scrape off their windows, and slowly make the drive to school for their children and work for themselves. But I think type, economics, and mentality all miss the point. For I don’t believe the Southerner's reaction to snow is happenstance or character; instead I believe it is an inherited trait that has been carefully chosen as a countercultural corrective to America’s culture of work that fails to pay proper due to Sabbath and season.
It is a difficult balance growing up in the South. Pride and shame seem to lie equally at the core of the Southerner’s soul.
We’re proud of our dual religions, Christianity and football. We’re proud of our journey with the land, descendants many of us of hardworking agrarians. We like our tea sweet and our syllables long. Authors: Chopin-Chesnutt-O’Conner-Hughes-Faulkner-Welty-Gay-Berry-Wright-Conroy-Hudgins; musicians: Johnson-Armstrong-Hank-Holly-Cash-Perkins-Charles-ZZ-Lucinda-Outkast; and Presidents: Washington-Jefferson-Madison-Eisenhower; just to name a few, the South has long produced great art and great leaders. And for this, and much more, we stand (well, when we’re not full from great cooking) proud.
I can still remember the fall afternoon in 1997, the day a car I’d never seen before threw an odd-looking paper onto our driveway. I opened it up in a hurry to find news of a Ku Klux Klan rally scheduled for our town center later that month. My face turned red as I chased after the car to hurl the now torn sheets of paper back at the rumbling automobile from which it came. That’s the day I began to understand the root of our shame. It is from that shame however that we remember it was a Southerner, born in Atlanta, a philosopher-pastor-prophet, who before laying down his life in Memphis encouraged us all to, “Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a better person of yourself, a greater nation for our country, and a finer world to live in.”
America will forever be a twenty-five-year-old recent MBA graduate in its employment mindset. The young kid fresh out of grad school needing to prove himself to the world. You don’t just create yourself through revolution and then build yourself into the world’s great economic power in an incredibly short amount of time and then rid yourself quickly of the workaholic hangover that got you into that position. For too long Americans have seen their work as the center of the human experience. Without a doubt work is crucial to the human experience and at the core of the American journey to power and prestige . . . but it is not our sole reason for existence. By law every country in the European Union is mandated four weeks of paid vacation* . . . four weeks. As of today the Euro exchange rate is 1 to 1.14 U.S. Dollars. We had a thing or two in the 18th Century to teach the Europeans about regarding Democracy and economic opportunity, but in the 21st Century I think perhaps the Europeans have something to teach us about work.
The Southern Snow Day I believe is a tip of the cap to this European view of work. A view that advocates for work as periphery to life, rather than life as periphery to work. And of course this corrective would come from a region of the country rooted in love for religion, pace, and the earth. While even Southerners, in a technological age, have fallen prey to the vices of busyness and disconnectedness, there still remains a culture that remembers to Sabbath and to season. The Snow Day is a reminder that we are not in control. That capitalism and work is ultimately all Babel. That the things which matter most—our neighbors, our children, telling stories, finding warmth, creating moments, being present rather than absent—are found in the mundane moments when all of our other options cease. The Snow Day ensures that at least once a year we pause and remember our humanity, our limitations, our community, and our Creator.
And so this upcoming week as we constantly refresh our twitter accounts for Tom Meiners latest weather updates, do so without any trace of silliness, apprehension, or guilt. We are participating in a sacred tradition.
Jackson, may your few days of ice and snow be enjoyed, whether they are restful by the fire with a cup of tea or spent furiously sledding down hills. A break is good. The same Creator who told us we must work, also instructed us to rest. A shutdown of the ongoing workweek is freeing. Relax, have fun, and enjoy the ones you love.
An Arkansas native, Luke Pruett moved to Jackson in 2002 to attend Union University and after becoming a Young Life leader and falling in love with the community of Jackson has committed to raising his family and having a career in West Tennessee. His wife April is his best friend, and his sons, Thomas (4) and Liam (2), are ballers and scholars. The Pruett family now lives in Memphis where Luke works for Choose901.