The Origins of Frosty: Why Do We Build Snowmen?

The Origins of Frosty: Why Do We Build Snowmen?
Frosty, the famous man of snow, has played a starring role in winter lore for decades. Combining a popular children’s character with kids’ natural love of building, snowmen have long been an integral part of family fun in the winter. However, while Frosty is clearly a household name, where the whole snowman tradition all began is far less well known. What are the origins of Frosty the Snowman, and why do we build snowmen in the first place?

What Is a Snowman?

A traditional snowman is built with three large balls of snow, usually graduating from largest at the bottom to smallest on top. There are many variations from there, but most commonly snowmen will feature stick arms, rocks for mouth and eyes and, typically, a soggy, old carrot for a nose. Children are then given full artistic license to add hats (Frosty wears a top hat) and scarves.

Think you can name all the necessary supplies?

Near-melting temperatures are necessary as the snow must be somewhat sticky in order to create the balls. In extremely low temperatures snow tends to be dry and fluffy. A relatively warm day following a large snowfall is the perfect time for making snowmen, starting with a small ball of snow and rolling it until it grows into the desired size.

Why Do We Build Snowmen?

While it is likely that people have been using easily-shaped snow to create some form of human replicas for millennia, the earliest documentation is found in the Dutch “Book of Hours” from 1380 A.D. A drawing in the book depicts a dejected-looking snowman facing away from a fire with a caption that refers to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Clearly not a whimsical version.

Throughout the Middle Ages, however, the snowman gained popularity and became more of a celebratory figure. It was common in Europe for people to put great amounts of time and effort in building intricate snowmen that would then be browsed by the populace in the same way Christmas lights are today. Michelangelo even reportedly tried his hand at snowman-making in 1494 in Florence.

One of the most famous instances of snowmen in European history took place in Belgium in the 16th century. The Miracle of 1511 in Brussels occurred during a brutal winter, referred to as the “Winter of Death.” That year, the townspeople came together to build 110 carefully-constructed snowmen, which included laborers, demons, political satire, and even some NSFW ones.

Who is Frosty the Snowman?

“Frosty the Snowman” is a famous Christmas song written by Jack Rollins and Steve Nelson in 1950. They had written and released “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” the year before, and its huge popularity started a bit of a trend in Christmas-themed music.

“Frosty the Snowman” was originally performed by Gene Autry and the Cass County Boys, and later recorded by Jimmy Durante. It was soon turned into a book, movie, and a TV animated holiday special, and Frosty remains an iconic holiday figure to this day.

In the song, Frosty actually features a “button nose”, rather than a carrot, smokes a corncob pipe, and comes to life when he is given a magical silk hat.

Fun Facts About Snowmen

Every year on the third Monday of April, the people of Zurich, Switzerland, kick off the spring festival Sechselauten by parading a cotton snowman called Boogg through the streets while bread and sausages are tossed to the cheering crowd. At the end of the parade, Boogg is placed atop a 40-foot pile of wood which is lit on fire, the flames eventually making their way to the top for the surprise ending; Boogg is stuffed with dynamite and soon is blown sky-high, signaling the official end of winter.

The largest snowman on record was actually a snow-woman and was built in honor of Maine Senator Olympia Snowe in Bethel, Maine, in 2008. She was an incredible 122-feet tall.

The record for world’s smallest snowman belongs to Doug McManaman of Cumberland County in Nova Scotia, Canada, who built a 1 1/8 inch-tall snowman in 2012.

The honor for most snowmen ever built by one person is held by Karen Schmidt of Coon Rapids, Minnesota, who put together a collection of 5,127 snowmen in 2013.

The History of Snowmen

While the origins of snowmen may be somewhat mysterious, there is no question they have become a key part of winter fun in places looking for things to spice up their long, cold winters. So, head outside on the next warm winter day and try your hand at this long-standing tradition.

For more fun, see if you can name these characters depicted in snow sculptures. Or, test your luck in the quiz below! And make sure to check out other holiday articles from the Sporcle Blog!


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