A Really Short History of the Snowman
Well, all right; snowmen and snowwomen have been around for much longer than the memories of anyone alive today. In fact, you’d need to have a Methuselahan memory to even approach the dim early days of characters made almost entirely out of snow.
The problem is that in any given year, we hardly get to know the denizens of the front lawn or sledding hill before they’re off in the vapor; usually without a fare-thee-well. Unlike the season of their visiting, there are no flyers trumpeting their pending arrival, no countdown to their visit and no TV Bio’s to give us a deeper understanding of their heritage and ethnicity.
It’s kind of like the people you know from church – you see them every week (perhaps?) but you don’t know their name, where they live, how they earn a living, or much of anything except that they sleep during the sermon and always dodge out before the final prayer.
The English word history comes from a French word that means “story”. If you were to ask, “what’s the story of the snowman?” our response would be necessarily short because we haven’t spent enough time to gather the facts.
There was a time when the flicker of the fire and the fertile memories of old men and warrior/hunter types entertained the family in the evening and prefigured what we now call Home Schooling.
The Upper Paleolithic period (between 40,000 – 10,000 years ago) was a period of sparse habitation and solidly entrenched in what we’d call an Ice Age. Remarkably, it was a period where the arts began to develop beyond the passing of oral traditions and tales of daily travail. Huddled in shelters, gnawing on mastodon gristle and telling tall tales, humans began hammering stone into anthropomorphic figurines.
Until recently, anthropologists have interpreted the blubbery proportions of these creations as homage to the assets that primitive man found sexy and desirable in the female form. More recently, with the discovery of bits of decayed vegetable matter and small fragments of uncarbonized dung around areas of strategic importance, experts are leaning toward a different interpretation.
Every primitive culture on the planet has created mythical and real force multipliers by fashioning humanoid buddies from readily available materials. Think of the iconic scarecrow in gardens and cornfields across the temperate zones of the United States.
30,000 years ago, mankind created snowbuddies. Possibly they were meant to boost the perceived population of the encampment. But because of their idealized female form, scholars now suspect snowwomen were a show of prosperity and economic security to psych out the neighbors; a cold war of feminine pulchritude. The stone figurines were the blueprints to pass the knowledge of their making down the generations.
In modern times, the story of the snowman can be condensed into two time periods; BC and AC:
The Snowman BC: Before Christmas, the snowman is yet another symbol of cheery pleasures of the season. He is the manifest fulfillment of every dream of a white Christmas. Greeting cards depicting children cavorting around a snowman remind us of our own idealized Christmas past. When we foray out to find those perfect gifts, the snowman will be there to greet you upon your return; more faithful and vigilant than the family dog.
The Snowman AC: Another Christmas come and gone. The snowman reminds us in many ways that winter has just begun. Why is it that the snow melts right around the snowman, but stays in the rest of the lawn? The cheery snowman, for many adults, now stands between winter and our speedy return for Spring. Not exactly the bad guy, but any accumulated piles of snow recall our primitive brains the hardships of our Paleolithic predecessors. Because we’ve lost the lore of the snowbuddy, it seems to depress us.
Into the vanishingly thin archive of the snowman story comes writer/author Bob Eckstein. In a detailed and painstakingly researched, “The History of the Snowman”, Eckstein collects and organizes the stories we’ve all seemed to miss.
Plowing through cultural and pictorial references to the snowman through the ages, he manages to bring readers a remarkably intelligent and readable summary of the arc of the snowman genealogy and ethnic background.
Reading the well organized and edited work is more akin to reading Dickens Christmas Carol for its edifying narrative and uplifting vignettes.
Even a weak command of the extensive lore found between the ‘History’ covers will make you the Snowboss on the subject of snowmen.
This winter it’s the Bob Eckstein story or wait for the seed catalogues.
Happy Winter! ~ Bob Carey