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If you're dreaming of a white Christmas, you might consider spending it in Quebec City or Goose Bay, Labrador. Those cities are all but guaranteed to have snow on the ground on Dec. 25.

But the perfect Christmas -- one with that greeting-card tableau in which soft, fluffy, flakes drift gently onto fields of billowy white -- is much more elusive.

Historical data suggest that three of the country's largest cities have a better than 50-per-cent chance of experiencing what most Canadians consider perfect Christmas-Day weather, said Dave Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment Canada.

The best bet is Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., which has a perfect Christmas 70 per cent of the time. It's followed by Timmins, Ont., at 52 per cent and Quebec City at 50 per cent.

"The perfect Christmas is a new concept," said Mr. Phillips, who will release his predictions today for white Christmases across Canada.

It's a notion that came to him when he realized cities that can claim to be having a white Christmas don't always look conducive to a ride in a one-horse open sleigh.

"Snow pack, especially with all of the pollution and dust falling, can get pretty dirty at the end," Mr. Phillips said.

"So I thought, well, really, to have a perfect Christmas Day you have to have snow on the ground and snow in the air."

So he defined the perfect Christmas as one in which there is a minimum of two centimetres of snow on the ground -- so the outside world looks snowy and white -- and at least a centimetre of snow falling at some point during the day.

If it were limited to a couple of flakes, it "wouldn't give you that good, fuzzy, warm, Christmas-like feeling," Mr. Phillips said. "A centimetre of snow would be enough to walk and make a footprint, so that's what I said. It had to be one centimetre or more. That would be the perfect Christmas Day."

Of course he realizes that the term "perfect Christmas Day" is problematic because the snow may fall too heavily. "Someone asked me, 'What if you got too much snow and the in-laws stayed two weeks?' That would be the Christmas from hell."

But it's impossible to define how much snow is too much. A 10-centimetre accumulation in Vancouver would shut down the city, while in Ottawa it would only add to the wonder of the day.

Fortunately, few cities have received a debilitating snowfall on Christmas Day. Montreal had 32 centimetres in 1996, Ottawa 20 in 1978. But the most Toronto has ever received is the 10 centimetres that fell in 1951.

Because it doesn't get much snow -- and because the stuff it does get tends to melt -- Toronto's downtown has only a 9-per-cent chance of having perfect Christmas weather.

But even the North Pole doesn't get perfect Christmases very often -- it's about on par with Toronto.

"There's 100-per-cent chance of having snow on the ground, but it's so cold up there that it doesn't snow very much so you're unlikely to get that one centimetre that you would need to qualify as a perfect Christmas Day," Mr. Phillips said.

As to white Christmases in general, Mr. Phillips said they are difficult to predict until about Dec. 20. Even cities that have a good snow pack today could see that melt away with fog or rain.

All across Canada, white Christmases are getting fewer and farther between. The 1970s was a much snowier decade than the 1990s.

It's also true that it doesn't look very promising in most of southern Canada at the moment.

There is a healthy snow pack in some parts of eastern Canada, he said.

Let it snow, let it snow The probability of snow on Christmas Day, by city:

Perfect Christmas
White Christmas
                (Snow in the air and      (At least two 
                at least two centimetres  centimetres of snow                 of snow on the ground     of snow on the ground
St. John's           24%                         65%
Goose Bay            30%                        100%
Charlottetown        48%                         87%
Halifax              24%                         59%
Fredericton          30%                         85%
Moncton              39%                         74%
Saint John           33%                         65%
Quebec City          50%                        100%
Montreal             25%                         80%
Val d'Or             48%                        100%
Toronto              13%                         57%
Ottawa               35%                         83%
Sudbury              46%                         96%
Timmins              52%                        100%
London               33%                         74%
Kitchener            35%                         74%
Hamilton             26%                         68%
Windsor               4%                         41%
Sault Ste. Marie     70%                         93%
Thunder Bay          34%                        100%
Winnipeg             11%                         98%
Brandon              15%                         93%
Regina               24%                         91%
Saskatoon            22%                         98%
Calgary               4%                         59%
Edmonton             20%                         88%
Kelowna              22%                         69%
Vancouver             4%                         11%
Victoria              7%                         11%
Prince Rupert         5%                         13%
Whitehorse           27%                        100%
Yellowknife          27%                        100%
Iqaluit              21%                        100%
Alert                 9%                        100%