Thursday, December 17, 2009

In defense of Frosty The Snowman

The wintry fairy tale song "Frosty The Snowman" has been oft looked down upon by those wishing to preserve the purity of the holyday season, insisting that it isn’t really a Christmas song at all. Along with "Winter Wonderland" and "Jingle Bells," they say, "Frosty" could be sung all through the winter as well as the snowier parts of autumn.

Ostensibly, these people are right, of course. Even if one were to consider Father Christmas & the flying reindeer as canon, poor Frosty contributes nothing to the festal goings-on. He merely comes to life and runs amok in a manner suggesting he might better have been named "Loki the Snowman."

And the eponymous snowman has no real place among carols adoring the Christ Child and the story of redemption.


The year was 1950. The success of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer the previous year had added nobly to the Santa story and also provided a thinly-veiled Chanukkah tale for Jewish children as well. Songwriters Walter E. Rollins and Steve Nelson feared that the miracle of the manger was being overshadowed by seasonal consumerism. And so, they wrote a song about Jesus and cast it in Solstice-y terminology--a natural move since the 25th of December was already commonly-accepted as the birthday of Jesus.

First of all, a reference to his sinlessness. A lamb would have been a natural choice, but what’s Christmas-y about a little lamb shivering in the winter chill? Instead, Nelson and Rollins chose a heartier specimen who could brave the cold; viz, a snowman. While not as religiously-significant as a lamb, Frosty’s snowy whiteness DOES call to mind the passage from the 51st Psalm, "Wash me and I will be whiter than snow." (Psalm 51:7)

Part of the beauty of Christ’s advent is that he bore no physical features by which one might distinguish him as God Incarnate. He was "found in appearance as a man" (Phil 2:8.) Likewise, Frosty is, to all appearances, an ordinary snowman, "made of snow," "with a corncob pipe and a button nose, and two eyes made out of coal."

A key feature of the Nativity is, of course, the virgin birth. But how do you speak to that topic to children in any era, much less the 1950s? Well, just as virgin births of male children don’t happen without divine intervention, even children know that snowmen don’t come to life unless a miracle happens. And just as the Scriptures refuse to address the specific mechanics of the event, simply acknowledging it as an act of God,

"The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will
overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of
God." (Luke 1:35)

so Rollins & Nelson penned these words:

The children know
How he came to life one day.
There must have been some
magic in
That old silk hat they found.
For when they placed it on his
He began to dance around.

"Why try to work it out?" they seem to ask. "It’s a miracle!" Accepting it calls for childlike faith (Luke 18:17.) Thus, "the children know."

His humble earthly beginnings--i.e., the manger, blue collar parents who are hard-up financially–is likely referenced in the fact that it is an "OLD silk hat." The broom also, a symbol of menial labor, reminds us that he would likely have been apprenticed to his father as a lowly carpenter.*

The "old silk hat," says Christmas song scholar Allen S. Brain, is also "reminiscent of magicians of a certain generation. Along with pulling rabbits out of hats, these masters of suave prestidigitation would seem to pluck doves from the very air around them. And doves, as you know, are a symbol of the Holy Spirit."**

When Jesus grew to adulthood, he called people to join him in his work. But instead of "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Mark 1:17), we find a more whimsical invitation on the icy lips of Frosty:

So he said, 'Let's run and
we'll have some fun
Running here and
there, all
Around the square saying,
Catch me if you can.

And his work? Confronting the legalistic Jewish leadership...

He led them down the streets of town
Right to the traffic cop.

And trampling their hypocritical, outward-only purity (with "hills of snow" stands in for the more canonical "white-washed tombs" [Mat 23:27].)

Thumpety thump thump,
Thumpety thump thump,
Look at Frosty go.
Thumpety thump thump,
Thumpety thump thump,
Over the hills of snow.

But even this "fun" mission is overshadowed by the snowman-messiah’s knowledge of his impending demise.

Frosty the snowman knew
The sun was hot that day,
So he said, 'Let's run
we'll have some fun
now, before I melt away.'

Such was Christ’s own existence. Always foremost in his mind was the knowledge that

"he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders,
chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the
third day be raised to life." (Mat 16:21)

Finally, Rollins and Nelson hint at Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion at the hands of the religious leadership. But his burial was brief, and in three days he was raised again to life. This whole event is synopsised in the lines

And he only paused a moment when
He heard him holler 'Stop!'

Finally Jesus takes leave of his disciples, but promises to return.

Frosty the snowman
Had to hurry on his way,
But he waved goodbye saying,
'Don't you cry,
I'll be back again some day.'

And as he ascends, "a cloud hid him from their sight." (Acts 1:9) Even this is included in the song, with "hills of snow" now standing in for the clouds.

Thumpety thump thump,
Thumpety thump thump,
Look at Frosty go.
Thumpety thump thump,
Thumpety thump thump,
Over the hills of snow.

*Others theorize that the broom is meant as a reminder of the cleansing of the temple or the fulfillment of the messianic prophecy that "He shall purify the sons of Levi" (Mal. 3:3.)
**Do you Hear What I Hear? The Stories Behind Our Beloved Christmas Carols, 357

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