The past two weeks have been filled with the experiences of community. The second week in December Nancy and I went cruising with my sister, Gloria, and her family. It was a celebration for her eightieth birthday. Then last week I went out to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania to help in a house raising for my friend, Dick Humphreys. The new house replaces one that burned down more than a year ago. A crew of Amish carpenters was running the project, but many of Dick’s neighbors and friends showed up to help with the physical labor.
These community experiences lead me to a reflection on family and friends on this day when many gather together. When my children, Matthew and Jennifer, were young we often spent Christmas with my mother and father and my sister’s family. Sometime through the years it became a tradition for me to tell a story to the children on Christmas Eve. I am not exactly sure when I created, The Christmas Snow Man, but it was told for one Christmas and eventually made a picture book for children. This was a family project with children drawing the pictures for the story book.
THE CHRISTMAS SNOW MAN, Copyright 1996
Christmas Eve morning the snow started to fall. Soon six, eight, ten inches covered the roof tops, porches, tree branches, car tops and backyards in town.
By noon the snow stopped falling and children came out to play. Across the neatly laid bed of snow they ran and jumped, yipped and yelled, burrowed and blasted. They built snow forts, made snow angels, had snow ball battles and rolled great balls of snow, piling one on top of the other to create snow people.
Only the shadows and cold of Christmas Eve night made the children think of wet hands and feet. Reluctantly the children stopped playing and went inside to be warmed and dried by the fire.
A full moon rose above the tree tops of one house. Slowly the moonlight crossed the backyard and shined on a snow man who stood near the door to the house.
Now I say he was a snow man. You might prefer a snow woman, a snow girl, or a snow boy. But it was clear that whoever created this snow person was thinking of a man. He wore a dad’s old, brown hat, green scarf and a pair of his old glasses from the junk drawer in the kitchen. The snow man’s eyes, nose and mouth were fashioned of pine bark chips from the rose garden. The three buttons on the snow man’s big, fat belly were pinecones from the white pine tree at the back of the yard. Yes, he was a snow man, and a special snow man, because he was created from a Christmas snow.
The cold, blue light of the moon had a wondrous effect on the snow man that Christmas Eve. He did not begin to dance around, but with a little imagination it was possible to see the snow man come to life: his pine bark eyes blink, his nose wiggle and his lips move.
And because he was facing the window that looked into the house, soon he could see the family gathered by the fireplace and looking at the Christmas tree that filled the room with sparkling light.
And then he spoke these words, “Oh, I wish I could go inside to be with the children. I wish I could sit by the fire and look at the lighted tree.
A neighbor’s dog was passing through the back yard and heard the snow man’s wish, “You don’t want to go in there”, said the dog, “go near that fire and you will be good as dead!”
The snow man blinked his eyes and looked down to the dog. It was difficult to see the dog because he could not move his head very far. “What do you mean good as dead? I don’t understand.” said the snow man.
“Wait until tomorrow”, answered the dog with authority, “when you spend a full day standing in the sunlight, then you will understand”.
“But I want to understand now”, said the snow man.
Suddenly a porch light turned on and the back door of the house opened. The dog slipped away into the bushes and the snow man turned his gaze to the door.
Out of the house came a girl about nine years old. She did not have on a coat or hat, not even a pair of shoes on her feet. Through the snow she ran toward the snow man.
And just as she reached the snow man, her mother appeared at the door and called out angrily, “Jennifer, get back in here, you don’t have shoes on your feet!”
“I’m coming”, she called over her shoulder, “I just want to give the snow man a little Christmas present.”
“Christmas present!” responded the mother, “that snow man doesn’t know or care about Christmas. You don’t have shoes on your feet. You will catch your death of cold!”
The girl turned back to the snow man. Looking into his eyes in the moonlight, she imagined that he was smiling. Quickly she reached into the pocket of her jeans and took out a piece of red ribbon. “Merry Christmas”, said the girl as she tied a bow around one of the pine cone buttons on the snow man’s big, fat belly.
Then, as suddenly as she appeared, the girl turned and ran back to the house, closed the door and turned out the porch light.
The snow man looked down, best as he could, to see the red ribbon bow on his big, fat belly; he felt good that someone cared about him, and he wanted to give a present in return.
Through the window the snow man watched. He saw the girl come back into the room with her family. He watched as the humans laughed, sang and told stories. Then the lights were turned out and they all went upstairs to sleep for the rest of the night.
The snow man did not sleep. If the dog was right, his time was short and too precious to spend sleeping. The snow man wanted to enjoy every hour, minute and second of the long winter night.
What at wondrous night the snow man lived in the moonlight on the snow covered backyard. We can only imagine the adventures he had. Of course, the dog came back and talked more of the sun that would come up in the morning. A kind and gentle cat rubbed her back against him and told stories of other snow people scattered around the town. Then a bird landed on the snow man’s hat and sang a lovely night song. And then late in the night, the snow man heard bells in the sky overhead, then a swish of air past his head; and through the house window he saw the dark shadow of someone, or something, moving around the Christmas tree. Finally, he heard a hearty laugh and the words, “Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas!” as another swish of air passed overhead. The snow man did not know who or what it was, but it made him to feel very happy and content. Through the long winter’s night, the snow man listened and looked down at the red ribbon bow on his big, fat belly.
When first morning light appeared in the eastern sky, the snow man was still listening and watching. He was so happy when the family came downstairs and he saw that the girl looked fine. She had not caught her death of cold as the mother warned. She was healthy and happy as she opened her Christmas presents.
Unfortunately the same was not true for the snow man. That Christmas morning the sky was clear and the sun grew hot as the day passed. And as the dog predicted the snow man began to melt: one pine bark eye fell to the ground and part of his mouth soon followed, his head drooped and the brown hat fell into the snow, and finally the pine cone bottom with the red ribbon bow dropped down into the snow. The sunlight that gives life to plants, trees and people was death to the snow man.
That Christmas afternoon the girl came out to visit with her snow man, but she found only a pile of snow. The work of sun had been finished by a neighborhood boy who toppled the head and body off the base of the snow man. The girl was sad when she thought about how full of life the snow man had been in the moonlight on Christmas Eve, and now he was gone. She looked all around for the red ribbon bow, but it was buried deep in the snow.
The snowman was gone, but not forgotten. Time passed, three, almost four months later the girl stood at the window looking out to the back yard. It was her birthday and it was raining. She looked at the green grass of spring and thought about the past winter when she had made a snow man in the same back yard.
Suddenly she saw something, it was Christmas red. It was the red ribbon bow. No time for a hat or raincoat, and no thought of shoes; out the door and across the backyard she ran to the place where the snow man had stood.
“Jennifer, get in here right now girl, you’re going to catch your death of cold”, called her mother from the back door.
“I’ m coming” she called back to her mother as she knelt down in the wet grass. There was the red, ribbon bow she had placed on the snow man’s big, fat belly. And growing out of it was a tiny, white pine tree, born from a seed in the pine cone button. It was a special present from the snow man; one that she could nourish and watch grow for the many years.
The snow man story grew out of a simple fact of life. My daughter, Jennifer, was never cold when she was young. She often went outside without a coat or shoes on her feet: and often she did it when there was snow on the ground. From this simple reality grew the snow man story. It has been told to many thousands of school children over the past twenty plus years.
On this special night of the year I give thanks for the friends and family who have made my life full of good memories. It has been a great gift to spend my life telling stories to all ages and times in life.