Making Christmas Specials: Frosty the Snowman
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Hespeler, 6 December, 2015 © Scott McAndless – Communion
n 1969 the decision was made to take a silly little winter children’s song about a snowman who came to life and turn it into an animated Christmas special. It was not really a very radical idea. Five years previously producers had taken another popular Christmas song, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reinde
er, and turned it into what
is probably the most popular Christmas special of all time. If they could do it
for Rudolph, they could surely do it for Frosty and in fact they even hired the
same man, Romeo Muller, who had written the Rudolph special to expand the song’s
story to fill an entire half hour.
But didn’t Romeo Muller have quite a challenge before him? How do you take a little lightweight song about what is, I guess, just about everyone’s childhood fantasy (What do you suppose it would be like if this snowman I’m making came to life?) – how do you take that and turn it into a full length drama that will engage people and speak to their hearts? But Muller did a terrific job. And to do it he drew on some deep and ancient truths. He created what I consider to be nothing less than a grand parable that communicates the gospel message.
The story already touched on the oldest mystery of all – the mystery of creation. Ever since they first started wondering about anything, people have wondered about why they are here and where they come from. And ancient people, including the ancient people of
often imagined a creation process where the creator first formed people out of
mud or clay and then breathed life into them. And although I think that we all
assume today that the whole creation process must have been a bit more
complicated than that, there is something about that simple image of God
moulding us out of common clay and then breathing his own spirit into us to
give us life that just offers a wonderful symbol of the
Well, of course, that whole creation scene is re-enacted in the Frosty story except, of course, instead of mud or clay the creators use snow. Now, the original story in the original song did not have much of an actual connection with Christmas. It could have been the story of any snowman made on any winter’s day. But the producers of the Christmas special wanted to tie the story in with Christmas, so they made a point of telling us that Frosty wasn’t made out of just any snow but of Christmas snow. This becomes a very important point later on. So the Christmas snow stands in for the clay of creation. And instead of the gift of the spirit or of breath to give the snowman life we have a hat – not just any hat, but a magic hat.
And so when Frosty is brought to life it is like a parable of the creation of human life. To make this very clear in the special, Muller has Frosty himself tell us what all of this means with his very first words. “Happy Birthday,” he says. It is a moment of birth, an act of creation. But a simple story of creation, as nice as it may be, wasn’t going to fill a half hour of prime time. Muller needed to complicate the story – to introduce a little bit of tension.
He created a new character, an incompetent magician named Professor Hinkle who is the one who has lost the magic hat – who threw it away, in fact, because he thought that there was no magic in it. And when he finds out how wrong he is, he’s ready to do anything to get it back. And since, in the story, the magic hat seems to represent life or the gift of the spirit, I guess that makes Professor Hinkle into the very personification of the evil that is in this world, of those who would steal life from others to accomplish their own goals. It makes him, if you like, the devil.
But, if Hinkle is the devil, who is Frosty? That is the key question! He kind of looks like a new being – one who has been created out of magic and of snow. You might even call him a new Adam. And in the Letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul says that Adam “was a pattern of the one to come.” (Romans 5:14) That is to say that when Christians look at the story of the creation of the first man, they should find something that teaches them about Jesus Christ and what he has accomplished for us.
And I would suggest that, in the television special, Frosty is very clearly a figure of Christ. When Frosty’s life is put in danger by rising temperatures, he and his friends decide that he needs to head north. And one of his friends, a girl named Karen, will not be separated from him and so she goes with him. All goes well for a while and the group has many adventures. But, at a certain point the increasing cold becomes too much for Karen and she collapses. Frosty picks Karen up and, to save her life, carries her into a heated greenhouse. Karen wakes up and realizes that Frosty is risking his own life by being in the greenhouse. She tells him that he must go but he brushes her off and says he can stand to lose a little weight. But at this point Professor Hinkle comes along – still following them and still looking to reclaim his hat – and he slams the door to the greenhouse, locking them both inside.
Trapped inside the greenhouse, Frosty melts – he dies. He gives up his life to save Karen from dying in the cold! Does that remind you of any story you’ve ever heard? Didn’t Jesus say, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Even more important, didn’t Jesus show with his own life what such a statement really meant? And so, I think it is very clear that Frosty’s death in the greenhouse holds many echoes of the central story of the Christian gospel.
But, of course, there is more. It is at this point that Santa Claus comes into the story. He arrives at the greenhouse but is too late to save the snowman. All he finds is an old silk hat, a corncob pipe, a button, two pieces of coal, a puddle of water and Karen weeping on her knees just like Mary Magdalene wept outside Jesus’ tomb. (Coincidence? I don’t think so!) Karen is quite inconsolable in her grief but Santa Claus says that there is a reason for hope. He says that it’s because, and only because, Frosty was made out of Christmas snow and there is something special about Christmas snow – it never goes away. And then Santa flings open the door of the greenhouse and a gust of cold wind comes in and sweeps the puddle of water outside where it instantly retakes Frosty’s shape. Santa puts on the magic hat again and again Frosty comes to life with his same first words: “Happy Birthday.”
Now, if that isn’t a resurrection story, I don’t know what is. And I’m not trying to suggest here that Romeo Muller intentionally borrowed his themes from the gospel story. On the contrary, I don’t imagine that he was even aware of the connection. But somehow, and in a way that even he probably didn’t understand, his story tapped into an eternal truth – the idea that new life can only come through death and resurrection – an idea that has been around for a very long time but that was finally given its supreme demonstration in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
So this is how I see Frosty the Snowman. The story of his “creation” is a reflection of Adam. The story of his “death” and his “resurrection” is a reflection of Jesus Christ, the new Adam. Talk about serious themes! And yet, through it all, the special remains a light-hearted romp especially for kids. But I think the very simplicity of the Frosty story may allow it to bring some fundamental truths home to us.
For example, I’ve always wondered, even when I was a kid, about Frosty’s first words. Both times when the hat is placed on his head and he comes to life, Frosty greets the world with a cheery “Happy Birthday.” Now the first time, it kind of makes sense. It is like he has just been born – his own birthday. But why does he repeat it when he is brought back from the dead? Well, I don’t know what Romeo Muller was thinking when he wrote it that way, but I think I can explain it from a Christian point of view.
There is a connection, you see, between the notion of creation and of resurrection. In our understanding, they are not really two different things. Your hope and expectation for the resurrection ultimately has its foundation in your creation. The God who created you, who took inanimate matter and brought it to life – whether you think of that creation taking place in the womb or in the some primordial soup – is the same God who will raise your earthly remains up to new life after you die.
That is why the Apostle Paul makes such a close connection between Adam and Jesus Christ: “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” He means that you need to keep in mind that your hope of life after death does not really depend on you, on anything you have done or not done, or on anything that is in your nature. It depends upon God. Your hope for resurrection is based in God and God’s ability to take dead matter and bring it to life. God has shown that he can do that by creating life in the first place and even more forcefully by raising Jesus from the dead. There is really only one miracle – the miracle of life. And what you received in your earthly birth or creation is like to what you will receive in your resurrection, only it will be that much better.
And, finally, there is one other way in which Frosty resembles Jesus. Even after Frosty is raised from the dead, the rising temperatures mean that he can no longer remain with his friends. He leaves to go and live at the North Pole. But he leaves with a promise – the final words of the song: “I’ll be back again someday.” But Frosty was not the first to say “I’ll be back.” (And, no, I’m not talking about Arnold Schwarzenegger.) That was also Jesus’ promise after his resurrection. And I know that, in the case of Jesus we tend to think of that return as a cataclysmic event – something that we wait for expecting that, when Jesus comes, he will set all things right. It is something that will happen at some future date but that really doesn’t affect the here and now that much.
But the Frosty special has put the idea in my mind that maybe we should think of the return of Jesus in a slightly different way. Frosty’s return, in the special, is tied to the date of Christmas – the date of his creation (for he was made of Christmas snow) and the date on which he was raised from the dead. And I think that can remind us that the resurrection of Jesus and our own resurrection which the Bible describes as happening when Jesus returns someday, is really one event. It is all tied up together. It’s all one and the same miracle. And it is a miracle that we can grab hold of here and now. You don’t have to wait until you die to start living the new life, the resurrection. Because of Jesus and the work that he has accomplished, you can enter into that reality here and now. “Happy Birthday” indeed!
So there you have it. You just thought that it was a simple little children’s story. Who’d have thought that it would turn out to be a major treatise on the meaning of creation and resurrection. Christmas truly is a season of magic.
Frosty the Snowman is a fairytale they say. Maybe it is, but it also contains much truth and children know truth when they see it. Some people say that the story of Jesus is a fairy tale too. We believe, and have reason to believe, that Jesus was a real person. Of course, I would insist that his story is even more true than Frosty’s, but there is also a sense in which both stories share a universal truth about the hope for life and new life that we find in our God.