What is a Snowman?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

Making snowmen is a good way to get exercise during the winter.
Making snowmen is a good way to get exercise during the winter.

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.

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.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


At my house, we'd build a Christmas snowman and go all out with special snowman decorations. We didn't use the traditional rolled snow method, either. We would pile up the snow into a large block and carve snowman patterns out of it. We would make a snow Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus, then create reindeer and other Christmas designs.


I remember making a snowman every winter in northeastern Ohio. We mostly stuck with the traditional three snowball pattern. The first snowball would be rolled around the yard until it became so large we couldn't move it. Hopefully that would happen in a good spot for viewing. The second snowball didn't have to be so massive, so we would only make it large enough for two people to pick up and plant on the bottom snowball. Loose snow made great mortar and grout.

The top snowball was usually the size of a basketball, and it was rarely a problem to replace after a snowball fight. We usually stuck a carrot into it to form a nose, two sticks with branches to form arms, and then wrapped a scarf around its neck. That was it.

If there was still snow on the ground in March, we would try to make one more snowman. Rolling the wet snow into a ball looked like rolling up a carpet. The grass under the snow would appear. We'd leave that snowman up and watch it deteriorate as the weather got warmer.

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