One of the joys of wandering around the village in winter is seeing all the snowmen and the people who are building them. It’s a tradition and pleasure shared by all age groups from all over the world, with construction methods only being limited by a person’s imagination and strength as well as the moisture content of the snow.
We may never know who the creative individual was that first moulded snow into a human shape. Evidently in 1494 the now famous renaissance artist Michelangelo was commissioned by a prince called Piero the Unfortunate to build a snowman in the Medici courtyard with art critics of the time recording that the snow sculpture was astonishingly beautiful.
But we can try and trace the history of building snowman throughout the world via publications and art. We know that the first photo of a snowman was taken by Mary Dillwyn in 1845, just after the camera was invented. So, the first photo of a snowman is also one of the first photos of anything. That’s pretty cool (pun intended).
Written or pictorial evidence of early snowmen construction history is quite thin on the ground, bit like the snow cover on our village roads currently. However, author of the book ‘The History of the Snowman’ Bob Eckstein has scoured libraries and archives of cold climate countries and come up with evidence of snowmen dating back to medieval times. According to Bob, the earliest evidence was found at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in The Hague and was a drawing of a snowman in margins of a book called the ‘Book of Hours’ written in 1380.
The Miracle of 1511 was a festival in Brussels in which the locals built approximately 110 satirical snowmen. It is estimated that more than half of the snowmen portrayed pornographic or sexual characters. Examples of snowmen built included a snow nun that was seducing a man, a snowman and a snowwoman having sex in front of the town fountain and a naked snow boy urinating into the mouth of a drunken snowman. There were also snow unicorns, snow mermaids, a snow dentist, and snow prostitutes enticing people into the city's red-light district. Among the political snowmen created were "a snow virgin with a unicorn in her lap", that was built in front of the ducal palace in Coudenberg, the home of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. This was in protest to him being absent and instead living with his aunt Margaret in Malines (Wikipedia).
Not to be outdone by Belgium snow caricatures, in 1818 the good Swiss folk of Zurich began celebrating the beginning of spring by blowing up snowmen. The Böögg, an 11-foot-tall snowman stuffed with straw, cotton and dynamite is paraded through the city to its centre where it is ceremoniously destroyed as part of the Sechseläuten tradition, an annual spring festival that dates back to the 16th century (The Smithsonian).
So that’s a potted history of snow people. Check out www.idreamofsnow.com if you’d like to buy something snowman related to remember your snow holiday at Falls Creek.
Cheers, Nyree Fiddes
I Dream of Snow