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What is a Snowman?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 01 April 2014
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A snowman is a sculpture of a person which is made from packed snow. As one might imagine, snowmen are generally found only in climates where it snows and remains cold enough for the snow to stick, although in warmer regions people may make snowmen as a novelty when some shredded ice or artificial snow is available. The practice of making snowmen dates back to at least the Middle Ages, and it may be even older, given the fact that snow is ideally suited to sculpting, especially for young and inexperienced hands.

A classic snowman is made very simply, with three balls of snow stacked on top of each other. Traditionally, the balls taper in size, with the top ball forming the head, the middle ball forming the torso, and the bottom ball being used for the legs. It is also common to decorate the snowman, classically with lumps of coal for eyes and a carrot for a nose. Coal may also be used to suggest buttons on the snowman's torso, and to make a mouth. Sticks may be used to suggest arms, and some snowmen also wear hats, scarves, and gloves.

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The basic form of the snowman is subject to variation, of course. At some traditional snow festivals, for example, snowmen are made with two balls of snow for convenience, and they may be made very small. In Japan, some snow festivals result in hundreds of tiny snowmen lined up in fields and other public places, which can be quite a sight. People can also try to give snowmen more realistic features like actual legs, and in some cases they may be supported with an internal framework.

Depending on weather conditions, a snowman may be ephemeral or enduring. If the weather stays cold and dry, a snowman can continue to exist for a prolonged period of time, although he may start to get a bit crumbly. If more snow falls, the snowman may become slightly buried, although people can repack the snow to reshape him. In rain or warming weather, the snowman melts away, leaving his accessories behind.

Many people in snowy countries enjoy making snowmen as a winter activity which allows them to get outside even when the weather is less than ideal. After a period of heavy snow, it is not uncommon to see numerous people out and about in their yards, taking stock of damage and cooperating in teams to build snowmen for fun. Although many people associate making snowmen with childhood games, adults are often involved as well, and in some regions adults hold competitions for the best snowman.

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