by Ethan Starr
Most of us cannot help but enter into a festive spirit when we hear Christmas music over the radio and see weekly rounds of Christmas specials on television. Christians in modern America may often, and justifiably, decry the secularization of the Christmas season, as St. Nicholas gives way to the red-clad, sleigh-riding Santa of popular culture, and biblical Christmas stories are supplanted by stories of Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman. Remembrance of the true spirit of Christmas should remain an important objective in our modern observation of the Christmas holiday, but there are some questions we should consider: Is the celebration of our secular holiday, characterized by Rudolph and Frosty, mutually incompatible with recognition of the birth of Jesus? Or, perhaps, do the Christmas specials actually reflect and educate children on the Christological meaning of Christmas? What could we possibly learn about Jesus from Frosty the Snowman?
Frosty the Snowman began existence as a humble creation of schoolchildren, who created him “with a corn cob pipe and a button nose and two eyes made out of coal,” as the familiar tune recounts. When a magician named Professor Hinkle had just, unsuccessfully, tried to perform a trick for the children, he discarded his seemingly defective magic hat, which a young girl named Karen immediately put on Frosty’s head. From this point in the short film, it is clear that Frosty is not an ordinary snowman; he is destined to bring joy to the children that so gleefully dance around him. Uttering a cry of “Happy birthday!”, the incarnate Frosty assumes his role as the leader of a parade of young children through the town center, startling authorities like the unsettled town barber and the unsympathetic traffic cop. For all the enthusiasm Frosty imbued in his young followers, the children were brought down to earth with the realization of his mortality: Frosty is slowly melting, and needs to be transported to a colder location, like the North Pole. Karen leads the way to a refrigerated box car and joins Frosty, along with the friendly rabbit Hocus, as they proceed to the North Pole.
Karen quickly grows cold, shivering and sneezing, until Frosty decides to abandon the venture to find warmth for his young companion. In doing so, Frosty demonstrates he is willing to take measures of self-sacrifice in order to protect the all-important children. He brings her to the woods, where the friendly animals help to build a fire, before the evil Professor Hinkle arrives, extinguishing the fire and demanding the removal of Frosty’s magic hat. Our snowman and Karen make a getaway down the hill until they approach a warm greenhouse, where he sets the freezing Karen before finding himself trapped inside by the evil magician, in a cruel act of murder. Entering the tragic scene, Santa arrives to give Frosty a sleigh ride to the North Pole, after dismissing Hinkle with the threat of no more Christmas presents. However, he is too late, and finds Karen crying over the melted form that had been her snowman friend. Santa, with his infinitely magical powers, conjures Frosty anew, and they fly Karen home, before disappearing to the North Pole. Just before the closing credits, the narrator explains the annual festivities that occur whenever Frosty returns, as the viewer watches the entire town come to celebrate the return of the good snowman.
Even for a Christmas enthusiast who has not seen the movie version of Frosty the Snowman, the familiar song lyrics, “But he waved goodbye / Saying don't you cry / I'll be back again some day,” suggest a messianic quality of this mythic snowman, and they implant the expectation of a second coming of Frosty. (Luckily, these lines are not referring to the unimpressive sequels that have stemmed from the 1969 original.) Frosty the Snowman undoubtedly shares a number of common characteristics with the story of Jesus of Nazareth: humble beginnings, enduring selflessness, death at the hand of an unenlightened man, and, of course, a resurrection. Presented in this 30 minute animated film is a secular parallel to the earthly life of Jesus Christ. Frosty creates a community of followers, or disciples, in the 6 young children that follow him through the town. He seems amply aware of his mortality as he joyously cavorts with his young followers, while being pursued by an evil magician. Immediately after his first words, Frosty already recognizes his impending death from melting, for he was born into a hostile environment. Despite the obstacles though, Frosty carries out his mission of bringing the good news of joyfulness to his school-age disciples.
Death by a locked door of the greenhouse is not exactly crucifixion, but similar to Jesus, Frosty willingly entered upon the opportunity of his death in order to give life to others. His life of devotion also ended in a grim self-sacrifice brought upon by evil forces. In this sense, Professor Hinkle, the magician, plays the role of Pontius Pilate in his relentless pursuit to end the mission of Frosty. The gospels define each member of the Holy Trinity as responsible for Jesus’ resurrection; Frosty thanks Santa (the higher power of this story) as well as the magic hat for bringing him back to life. The magic hat was present at Frosty’s initial animation by Karen--analogous perhaps to the Holy Spirit’s presence at Jesus’ baptism. The hat could, more simply, be compared to Christian faith in that Professor Hinkle was so eager to cease its use. The hat indeed provides hope for the second coming of Frosty, with the song’s lyrics mentioning prominently the “magic in that old silk hat they found.”
Am I suggesting that Frosty the Snowman should be seen as entirely congruent with Catholic Christological teaching? Of course not. The screenwriter of a decades-old, low budget Christmas special on a jolly snowman did not hatch some conspiracy to portray his protagonist as some sort of ‘secret Jesus.’ However, the many analogous features between the secular story of the animated snowman, created by schoolchildren, and the son of God, born of a woman, can be difficult to miss. Watching this secular Christmas special should not be allowed to supplant the story of Jesus of Nazareth in the minds of America’s children, but that does not mean Frosty cannot effectively provide supplementary education on self-gift to Christian children.
Thumpety thump thump
Thumpety thump thump
Look at Frosty go
Thumpety thump thump
Thumpety thump thump
Over the hills of snow