Jack Frost is a composite of several characters like Father Frost and Jokul Frosti. This fictional being is believed to control winter elements. Common happenings attributed to this character include cold weather, winter precipitation, and foliage changes. In literary terms, he is sometimes thus used as an idiom — or figurative symbol — of the effects of winter.
Most legends portray this being as a sprite. These mythological creatures are small, quick, and often have magical powers. Elves are fairies are common examples. They can be malevolent tricksters, but most are generally harmless and sometimes even beneficial to humans. In popular depictions, Jack Frost is often portrayed to look like an elf: small and with young-looking features. He may also have wintry touches like white hair, blue clothing, or icicles adorning his body.
Powers attributed to Jack Frost usually involve the ability to create winter conditions. Since coldness and frosty precipitation like snow and sleet are synonymous with winter, they are among the frequent alleged activities of Jack Frost. The creature also supposedly creates the ice and frosty air that nips at winter dwellers. Even the icy patterns on windows or in snowflakes are believed to be the work of Jack Frost. In some depictions, the sprite’s artistry extends to painting tree leaves with the colors of autumn and incoming winter.
This small man has inspired interest in many cultures, and he is thus a common subject in winter tales ranging from books to movies. In many of these arenas, he is a jolly and sometimes comical representation of winter, while other depictions cast him as mischievous and sometimes villainous. In cultures that celebrate Christmas or other winter holidays, he often interacts with common holiday characters like Santa Claus or Father Christmas. One of the earliest literary mentions of Jack Frost occurred in Elizabeth Bishop's poem "First Death in Nova Scotia." In popular culture, slang sayings regarding winter may also reference the sprite.
Perhaps the earliest representation of Jack Frost arises in Norse folklore. Many stories and legends recounted the adventures of Ostara Blumen and Jokul Frosti, two friends who shared many adventures in a dreamland word. Jokul Frosti — or Icicle Frost — was the son of a wind god, and he used his magical artistic abilities to paint trees and to create crystal engravings outdoors during cold weather. In some variations, he could also control natural forces, like the onset of winter.
Later inspirations include Father Frost, a Russian character who could combine water and earth. A female version even existed in Germany. According to this legend, an old woman known as Mother Hulda lived in the sky and created snow by dropping white feathers from her bed.