By Rebekah K. Bohannon Beeler
Lake Tansi finally got a nice heap of snow on the evening of Wednesday, Feb. 12. Waking up to a beautiful, snow laden wonderland and bearable temperatures, Lake Tansi’s children found their playground outside in easily packable snow and rolled up their sleeves to make a favorite winter creation – a snowman.
The history of the snowman is a vast, worldwide phenomenon. The origins of these anthropomorphic snow sculptures are so widespread and the surviving evidence so sparse that it is undeterminable. However, depictions of the snowman dating back to Medieval times make it more evident that the snowman could have likely been a pastime from even further back. An illustration of a snowman in the margin of a book of hours dated 1380 A.D. is believed to be the oldest depictions of a snowman in history. Usually written in Latin, books of hours were popular Christian devotionals filled with prayers and Psalms. Many of these devotionals were written partially and entirely in vernacular European languages, especially Dutch. Tens of thousands of these books have survived to present day in special collections of libraries all over the world. This particular book of hours was found in Koninkijke Bibliotheek (translation Royal Library, refers to the National Library of the Netherlands), in The Hague.
The depiction shows a white, roundish figure with a face and hat sitting on a platform with a kettle of fire beneath. Centuries of winter festivals, folktales and more can correlate this illustration. The Sechselauten (Six Ringing Festival) of Zurich, Switzerland, is a tradition more than 600 years old. The Sunday and Monday set to observe the Sechselauten, usually in early April following the spring equinox, begins to show the change in seasons and chase of winter. A parade showcases guilds of artisans and tradesmen, spring beauties and paper flowers. Then comes Boogg, an all-encompassing symbol of Old Man Winter. Boogg is a huge snowman made of a wooden frame and paper, stuffed with fireworks and explosives. Pulled on a platform in the parade, Boogg is booed and ridiculed as he passes and is lifted onto a pyre where he will be burned at six o’clock on Monday evening when the church bells ring. The fireworks explode and winter succumbs to the birth of spring. The symbolic rite has been handed down for centuries from the pagan times and is one of Switzerland’s many ceremonies dramatizing winter’s eviction and the coming prosperity of spring.
This festival and the oldest illustration coincide with the dates which may have also been influenced by the climate change that occurred. Europe enjoyed productivity and growth during the Medieval Warm Period from circa 950 to 1250 A.D. The warm period ended and was followed by an intense encroachment of glacial expansion, cold rains, year-long freezing temperatures, and what is known as the Little Ice Age that lasted until the mid-1800s. Between the effective periods of drought, famine and disease, Europe endured massive loss in population and productivity and was surrounded by harsh winters and undependable growing seasons. Suffice it to say, Boogg had earned his place in the ritual in the eyes of the people who had suffered enough harsh winters lasting many lifetimes.
Chasing away winter is still a recognizable pastime in the United States. Much like Sechselauten, Hoodie-Hoo Day is held early April and is noted for Americans to go outside and scare away winter by yelling out, “Hoodie-hoo!”
The snow, having reached a near melting point in Lake Tansi the day after it fell, made for the perfect snowman sculpturing scenario. Many Lake Tansi children made snowmen in their yards, had snowball fights, made snow angels, and painted the crisp, white snow with water and food coloring mixtures. Many snowmen were inspired by the popular winter movie “Frozen” which hit theaters last November. Having the opportunity to create their favorite character from the movie, the funny snowman named Olaf, made for a perfect play day in the snow. As for Lake Tansi, the snow was short lived, as were the snowmen. But the memory of continuing such pastimes as building a snowman will forever be the highlight of the winter season and a sweet reminder that every season has its charms.