It was colder than a witch’s tit . . .

Yes. It was that cold.

Having lived in some pretty hot places around the world over the past 40 years, I’d never experienced cold like that until then.

When? Well it was Christmas 2007, and Steph and I spent Christmas with Hannah and Michael in St Paul, Minnesota. And having flown in from the Philippines on Christmas Eve (and arriving in Minnesota almost before we departed the Philippines), you can imagine that super low temperatures came as a bit of a shock to the system. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In all the almost 19 years in the Philippines we spent Christmas there, often heading to the beach for some well-deserved R&R, some diving, and generally lazing around under the tropical sun, except for four occasions when we visited Australia (twice) and once each to Hong Kong (and Macau) and Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

However, in 2007, I thought it would be fun to experience Christmas in a cold climate so, in my devious way, set about planning a Christmas break in Minnesota. Hannah had moved (as an undergraduate) to St Paul in 1998, and has settled there with husband Michael (and now children Callum and Zoë). Anyway, in about September of that year, I contacted Hannah and asked her if we could come and spend Christmas with them – if her Mum was willing to travel. Of course, Hannah was delighted at the idea and immediately said ‘Yes!’. Then I tackled Steph, asking her if she liked the idea of Christmas with Hannah and Michael. It didn’t take her long to agree – even though she has never been a fan of long-distance travel.

Unbeknown to either Hannah or Steph, I had already made Business Class reservations with Northwest Airlines, to depart on Christmas Eve (arriving to Minneapolis-St Paul, MSP, that same day), returning on New Year’s Eve, and back home on New Year’s Day. Originally our schedule was to fly to MSP via Tokyo (Narita) and Detroit, but about a week before flying seats opened on the direct Narita-MSP.

That was very fortunate as a major blizzard had moved through the Midwest just a couple of days before Christmas Eve and caused all manner of travel disruption, and our journey would have been even more tedious had we had to fly via Detroit.

There wasn’t a cloud in the a clear blue sky as we came into land at MSP, but we could see that a lot of snow had fallen within the previous 24-48 hours. Hannah and Michael were at the airport to meet us, and Hannah had brought along several items of warm clothing for Steph who didn’t have any in the Philippines since it was way below zero (Fahrenheit!). I was OK, since I often used to travel to the US or Europe during the winter months and had to have appropriate warm clothing to hand. From the airport we headed off to Target for a quick shop of extra clothes for Steph. We were amazed at how clear all the main roads were, eve tough there had been at least a couple of feet of snow.

Christmas Day was quite special. Not only was it nice to be with family, but it really did have a special traditional feel about it, sitting in front of a roaring log fire, opening presents, having a wee dram or three, and anticipating an excellent Christmas lunch of turkey.

We sat down to eat around 3 pm. It was just getting dark, the neighbors had switched on their Christmas lights (something that has grown in popularity here in the UK in the past few years), and then magic – it began to snow. Well, I’m now 65, and this for me was just about my first white Christmas. Even though there was food on the table, Steph and I had to go outside and experience that magic first hand.

Over the course of the next few days, Steph and I got to experience what ‘real cold’ was all about. It certainly was rather bracing heading out for a daily walk. But, by the same token, it was an experience that I thoroughly enjoyed, even though I don’t think I would recommend living somewhere that gets that cold.

All too soon our Minnesota sojourn was over, and on New Year’s Eve we headed back to MSP to catch a midday flight to Narita and on to Manila, arriving late at night on New Year’s Day. Great to be home, but pleased that we’d taken the opportunity of experiencing a different type of Christmas.

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