A Month of Christmas: The Snowman

Hungary – Christmas Snowman (2018)

Snowmen are a popular theme for Christmas and winter decorations. A famous snowman character is Frosty, the titular snowman in the popular children’s song “Frosty the Snowman” (later adapted into film and television specials), who was magically brought to life by the old silk hat used on his head. A snowman is an anthropomorphic snow sculpture often built by children in regions with sufficient snowfall. In many places, typical snowmen consist of three large snowballs of different sizes with some additional accoutrements for facial and other features. Due to the sculptability of snow, there is also a wide variety of other styles. Common accessories include branches for arms and a rudimentary smiley face, with a carrot standing in for a nose. Human clothing, such as a hat or scarf, may be included. Low-cost and availability are the common issues, since snowmen are usually abandoned to the elements once completed.

Snow becomes suitable for packing when it approaches its melting point and becomes moist and compact. Making a snowman of powdered snow is difficult since it will not stick to itself, and if the temperature of packing snow drops, it will form an unusable denser form of powdered snow called crust. Thus, a good time to build a snowman may be the next warm afternoon directly following a snowfall with a sufficient amount of snow. Using more compact snow allows for the construction of a large snowball by simply rolling it until it grows to the desired size. If the snowball reaches the bottom of the grass it may pick up traces of grass, gravel or dirt.

A classic style three-ball snowman in Winona Lake, Indiana, USA. The snowman has a top hat, a carrot nose, a corncob pipe, charcoal for the eyes and mouth and buttons on the body, branches on the sides for arms, and a scarf. Photo taken on January 5, 2014,

In North America, snowmen are generally built with three spheres representing the head, torso, and lower body. In the United Kingdom, two spheres are used, one sphere representing the body and one representing the head. The usual practice is to then decorate and optionally dress the snowman. Sticks can be used for arms, and a face is traditionally made with stones or coal for eyes and a carrot for a nose. Some like to dress their snowmen in clothing such as a scarf or hat, while others prefer not to risk leaving supplies out doors where they could easily be stolen or become stuck under melting ice.

There are variations to these standard forms; for instance, the popular song “Frosty the Snowman” describes a snowman being decorated with a corncob pipe, button nose, coal eyes and an old silk hat (usually depicted as a top hat). These other types range from snow columns to elaborate snow sculptures similar to ice sculptures. One book describes classic snowman attachments as a black felt top hat, red scarf, coal eye pieces, carrot nose, and corn cob pipe.

People are dancing around a snowman – woodcut from 1511
The earliest known photograph of a snowman, circa 1853. In the collections of Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales.
In this illustration from 1867, a snowman is surrounded by children.

Documentation of the first snowman is unclear. However, Bob Eckstein, author of The History of the Snowman: From the Ice Age to the Flea Market (2007) documented snowmen from medieval times, by researching artistic depictions in European museums, art galleries, and libraries. The earliest documentation he found was a marginal illustration from a 1380 book of hours, found in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in The Hague. The earliest known photograph of a snowman was taken in 1853 by Welsh photographer Mary Dillwyn, the original of which is in the collections of the National Library of Wales.

In 2015, a man from the U.S. State of Wisconsin was noted for making a large snowman 22 feet tall and with a base 12 feet wide.

Townspeople and businesses in Bethel, Maine created “Olympia” the snow-woman, named after Maine senator Olympia Snowe, which is 122 feet, one inch high. It set a new Guinness world record, breaking a snowman also made in Bethel in 1999. It took more than a month to build, had a 100-foot scarf, 27-foot evergreen trees for arms, and the eyelashes were made of old skis donated from nearby ski resort Sunday River. Photo taken by Chris Darling on March 23, 2008.
A snowman in the United Kingdom. Photo taken by Mike Quinn on January 4, 2008.

The record for the world’s largest snowman was set in 2008 in Bethel, Maine. The snow-woman stood 122 feet 1 inch (37.21 m) in height, and was named in honor of Olympia Snowe, a U.S. Senator representing the state of Maine. The previous record was also a snowman built in Bethel, Maine, in February 1999. The snowman was named “Angus, King of the Mountain” in honor of the then current governor of Maine, Angus King. It was 113 feet 7 inches (34.62 m) tall and weighed over 9,000,000 pounds (4,080,000 kg).

A large snowman known as “Snowzilla” has been built each winter in Anchorage, Alaska.

In December 2016 the smallest snowman of sorts was created in a nano-fabrication facility at University of Western Ontario. It consisted of three roughly 0.9 micron spheres of silica, platinum arms and nose, and a face made by an ion beam.

Hungary – Christmas Snowman (2018) full sheet
Hungary – Christmas Snowman (2018) first day cover

Hungary issued one Christmas design on November 5, 2018, designed by the graphic artist Edit Szalma and printed by Pátria Nyomda Zrt. using four-color flexography. The stamp is self-adhesive and has no value indication, bearing the inscription BELFÖLD (Domestic). It sold for a face value of HFt 120 on the day of issue and was printed in sheets of 50 and sheetlets of five. The latter have an additional varnish layer to the stamps to make the snowflakes “sparkle”.

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