Revised: 04/10/2012 kw
2000 Ken Mackenzie Writer's Award
When the weather outside is frightful and the fire inside delightful...let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. (Fig. 1) Then when the blizzard has finally subsided and those last lazy snowflakes are floating down around us, we can step out into that Marshmallow World and marvel at the beauty of a Winter Wonderland (Fig. 2).
What a variety of emotions are stirred! First we feel the swirling fury of the storm that lays down a field of snow that will sparkle in the sun like diamonds. Then, with nightfall, the same scene changes dramatically to a blanket of pure white tranquillity as seen by moonlight. No wonder that hundreds of artists and songwriters have been inspired to create works mirroring this glory of nature.
It was just such a mood-setter that Irving Berlin was looking for in the 1940's when he penned a little ditty to be crooned by Bing Crosby in the movie, "Holiday Inn." "White Christmas" would go on to become the most popular Christmas song of all time. Even though "Holiday Inn" was a big hit, the staying power of "White Christmas" was achieved by another route.
These were the days of World War II. Thousands of men far away from home, a lot of them enduring steamy jungles, were looking for reassurances that the peaceful home front that they were fighting for would be waiting for them after the war. The simple nostalgic refrain, "May your days be merry and bright, And may all your Christmases be white," brought a surge of hope that they would be returning to the love of family and the safety of home as remembered in their dreams. (Fig. 3)
And so it was that snow became an essential ingredient of the celebration of Christmas. To this day no one is surprised to see rolls of white cotton as part of the holiday decor in Yuma, Ariz., and make-believe snow decking the palm trees along the beaches in San Diego. Miles of the artificial fluff help the human "snowbirds" who flock to Miami Beach each winter get into the Christmas spirit.
Of course, if nature cooperates, and we get a real "white Christmas" up north, there are myriad activities just waiting for participants. People of all ages like to sled, skate, toboggan, sleigh ride, ski or just simply take a hike through the snow. Children especially like to play in the snow. We might find them making "snow angels," building a fort for a snowball fight or, for the creative, crafting a snowman.
So it was a natural association when Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins wrote Frosty the Snowman in 1951. A song that has a magical snowman appeals to children and since it was recorded by Gene Autry of Rudolf fame, it couldn't miss. And it didn't--to the tune of millions of records sold. And so a new legend was born.
And just who is this Frosty? How do we know him when we see him? Does he have a home, family or friends? And most importantly, what I really want to know -- does he have a presence in the world of philately? The search turned up a goodly number of snowmen to put to the test.
It wasn't too hard to find a basic description of Frosty. Sing along with the song, "He was made of snow, a jolly, happy soul...had a corncob pipe and a button nose and two eyes made out of coal." The lyrics also note that he is known to carry a broomstick in his hand.
Comparing facial features, we can see right away that a large group of snowmen, those with the nice long, orange, carrot noses, bear little resemblance to Frosty. On the other hand small, beady black eyes, which could more than likely be two lumps of coal, seemed to be the norm (Fig. 4)
I found only a few snowmen that had pipes in their mouths. Could this be a fallout of the anti-smoking movement? Other celebrities have had their "smokes" edited out of their portraits to make them more politically correct as stamp subjects (FDR, Churchill and Edward R. Murrow come to mind). We wouldn't want Frosty to be a bad example on stamps that have an obvious appeal to children.
Broomsticks also proved to be rather scarce (Fig. 5). The most interesting example I found was on a 1993 Christmas stamp from the Isle of Man. A young girl, with the help of a feathered friend, has fashioned an attractive snow woman. Could this then possibly be Mrs. Frosty (The Isle of Man Post Office sent Christmas cards in 1993 that used the artwork for the 23d Christmas stamp picturing a little girl and a "snow soman.")?
And now to consider the most important element in Frosty's wardrobe, that seemingly ordinary, yet apparently bewitched accessory that was a catalyst that brought him to life--his hat. "There must have been some magic in that old silk hat they found, for when they placed it on his head, he began to dance around" (Fig. 6).
Incongruously, I found several other snowmen that appeared to be animated. However, none of them had a Frosty-style silk hat--pails and pots as chapeau seemed to dominate. Perhaps Frosty travels around the world, and taking a page from Santaíís book, changes costumes as he goes, to better reflect the ethnic spirit of the countries he visits (Fig. 7).
So now that we have some idea as to what Frosty looks like, we can tackle the other question, where does Frosty live? His friends, the children, are simply promised that he will indeed return some day. But from where? The song doesn't offer any clues. Since melting is his greatest fear, the obvious answer would seem to be, from a place where it's very cold and there is a lot of snow. That opens up a lot of possibilities. The polar-regions come immediately to mind. In fact the lowest ever temperature recorded was on July 21, 1983, at Vostok, a research base in Antarctica. It reached 128.6 degrees F. below zero. But that is not necessarily the optimum conditions for snow formation. More snow falls each year in the northern United States and in southern Canada than at the Norh Pole.
For instance, the residents of St. Cyrille de Wendover, Quebec, working in 1993 with an obvious abundance of snow, built the world's tallest snowman, Thiro. He measured 75 feet tall surpassing the previous record set in 1991 in Japan (Frosty's cousins?).
The heaviest snowfall in 24 hours measured 76 inches at Silver Lake, Colo., April 15, 1921. A week long storm at Mount Shasta Ski Resort in California, Feb. 13-19, 1959, dumped a record 189 inches of snow. However, you have to travel to Bratsk, Siberia, on the other side of the world to find the most amazing snowflake of them all. It was found in 1971 and measured a whopping 8 x 10 inches.
Towns that have wintry sounding names might appeal to Frosty as a home base. Just to mention a few we have: Frost, Minn.; Snowflake, Ariz.; and Snowmass Village, Colo (Fig. 8).
In Finland we find snow-castles that would make excellent abodes for Frosty. Ulrika Eleanoríís Snow Church, named after a former queen, was built in Helsinki in 1997 on the site of the original 1727 church. The town of Kemi boasts an even grander edifice made of snow that has several restaurants, a chapel, and is host to more than 270,000 visitors a year (Fig. 9).
I did find a reference to a Frosty the Snowman as an important "resident" of Zurich, Switzerland. He is the centerpiece of the Spring Sechselauten holiday. Similar to Groundhog Day in the United States, it celebrates the end of winter. A much larger event though, it involves a parade with costumed marchers, floats, horses, bands and people throwing gifts into the crowd. As the climax of the day it features the burning of the snowman. Yes, their intent is to kill their Frosty! He is mounted atop a large pile of wood that is set afire at 6 p.m., and using a complicated mathematical formula, the time it takes to completely melt him is used to calculate the arrival of spring. An explosive charge is also placed in his head. This detonation adds to the excitement. Obviously, not our gentle, fun-loving Frosty!
After a little further investigation, I did finally find the definitive information that pointed the way to Frosty's real home. In 1969 a short cartoon film was made that was based on the original song. It has since gone on to become a Christmas season TV classic. Jimmy Durante sings the title song and narrates the story that tells of Frosty's adventures with an evil magician.
While the song left most of Frosty's persona to our imagination, the video gives us a colorful look at both his personality and day-to-day activities. He appears lighthearted with a devil-may-care attitude. Frolicking with the children would be his favorite pastime. Yet he has a serious side and was ultimately able to outsmart the villain who locks him in a greenhouse hoping to reduce him to a puddle of water.
Of course there is a happy ending to the story. In the final scene we see a triumphant, rejuvenated Frosty. Waving and smiling, he is taken away as a passenger on Santa Claus' sleigh to be returned to the safety of his home at the North Pole. He promises the children this time that he will return on Christrmas day. So we learn that Frosty and Santa are indeed also neighbors in the arctic circle and not just good friends. And yes, we do find snowmen and Santa pictured together on stamps!
Although I did not locate a snowman that was an exact match to Frosty in every
detail, I do consider my search a success. There were actually several that were fairly
close in comparison. So in spite of his eyes being much too expressive for lumps of coal,
I am going to nominate the snowman posing with Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer on a 1993
Yakima, Wash., pictorial cancel, as the real Frosty (Fig. 10). Also, I am still not
convinced that Frosty does not go out in public incognito at times. As I surmised earlier,
it would not be unusual for him to adopt native garb and try to ingratiate himself to the
I did make an interesting discovery when looking through the snowmen in my collection. On an illustrated meter dated Dec. 12, 1946, from Dallas, Texas, I found a smiling snowman joyfully bringing us the greetings of the season. He is the spitting image of Frosty! Yet this is several years before Nelson & Rollins created the legend. Is this merely a coincidence, or might we christen him Frosty Sr. thereby expanding the family circle (Fig. 11)?
Obviously, this area of genealogy has been largely ignored. You never know though, some enterprising writer might come up with a new song that will give us the clues that we need to put the familial pieces together. Then if we keep our eyes open when looking through the albums, we might be able to add a few more branches to the Frosty Family Tree. It should prove interesting. Let it snow (Fig. 12)!
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Revised: 04/10/2012 kw