Christmas jumpers, The Fairytale of New York, mistletoe. All festive staples, without which Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas. Another festive tradition is The Snowman, the 26-minute film that airs every Christmas Day, telling the enchanting tale of a young boy called James and his magical snowman who comes to life in the night.
The tale was originally created by Raymond Briggs in 1978, who wrote it with an underlying message of death and morality. Therein lies the beauty of the story: its symbolism is open to interpretation, from one of rebirth and psychology to simply that of a sweet tale of a boy and his snowman. Briggs refused to offer a happy ending to the book, following the Maurice Sendak mantra of “I refuse to lie to children.”
Dianne Jackson animated the story in 1982, while Howard Blake wrote the famous score, Walking in the Air, in just one day. While Briggs initially introduced the short film, a later version was opened by David Bowie wearing a patterned festive jumper and scarf with a slicked, bleached haircut. In 1983, The Snowman was nominated for an Academy Award and it ranks 71st in the British Film Institute's list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes.
"With his strangely circular carrot nose and pork pie hat, the Snowman has become an iconic figure of Christmas"
With his strangely circular carrot nose and pork pie hat, the Snowman has become an iconic figure of Christmas. There is a touching scene mid-way through where he tries on various pieces of clothing, including trousers, pipes and braces. Alternative versions have since been produced, including an Irn Bru advert from 2006 in which the snowman flies across Scotland.
Other famous snowy counterparts include the eponymous star of the 1950s song Frosty the Snowman by Walter E. “Jack” Rollins and Jack Frost – the spritelike personification of frost and snow, who dates back to the Middle Ages. The earliest record of a Snowman is 1830, while the largest to date stood at 122 feet and took one month to construct. Hominochionophobia is the official term for fear of snowmen, while in 2009 The Hope House Children’s Hospice set the record for the most people dressed as a snowman in the one place – 333.
The story of Brigg's snowman ends when morning comes, and James awakes to find that his friend has melted. All that is left is the poignant and haunting image of a hat and scarf, lying flat on a mound of snow.
Text by Mhairi Graham