Why Frosty Doesn't Like Christmas

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It was December 15. Hurrying to catch my train and preoccupied with seasonal planning, I almost missed seeing him. He was lying in the recessed entry, surrounded by empty slurpy cups. He was emaciated, his complexion like slush. But he had the corn cob pipe, the button nose, the two eyes made out of coal. Even the old silk hat.

It was Frosty, alright. And he was not a jolly, happy soul.

I stopped to chat. After sharing the usual pleasantries, I asked how he had come to this sad state.

"I get real depressed at this time of year," he answered.

"Why? I hear your song over and over in all the stores and I'll bet your television special will be broadcast again this year."

"Yes, but that's just the problem," he replied wearily. "Where will I be after Christmas? Nowhere. You see, once upon a time my story was not a Christmas story. It was a story for the whole winter season. Not anymore. It's been swallowed by Christmas. I used to have a life span of several months, especially in cold places. Now I live for a couple of weeks, then, on December 25, off I go, thumpity thump-thump, over the hills of snow."

"On the other hand," I answered, trying to lift his spirits, "you get an earlier start now, what with Christmas marketing starting even before surplus Halloween candy gets discounted."

"No good. Winter's too erratic before mid-December. Too many warm days. Very bad for a snowman's health. His spirit, too. There just isn't any winter season anymore. Oh, sure there is, climate-wise. Even with global warming there still are plenty of cold and snowy days. No, winter's disappearance is cultural. "Jingle Bells." "Winter Wonderland." "Sleigh Ride." Wonderful songs, right? And none of them is about Christmas. They are about winter living. But when do you hear them? Only during Christmas season! They've been sucked up by Christmas and have no independent existence. Winter is dead!"

"I guess you're right."

Fixing me with anthracitic eyes, Frosty aimed his pipe at me. "Look, you're a social scientist," he said, virtually spitting out the title with disgust. "Tell me why this happened?"

"I don't know, Frosty." I paused to gather my thoughts. "Maybe it's because of cars. When I was a kid, we walked to school. We played outdoors. We lived close to where Dad worked. There were groceries and bakeries and butcher's markets only a couple of blocks away. When Mom needed something, she could have one of the older children walk to the store to get it. When it snowed, nobody was really put out. Now we drive everywhere, and everything is so far away. Nowadays, snow is a real pain in the asphalt, if you'll forgive me a crude pun."

Frosty waved his hand absent-mindedly. In his dereliction he had become a snowman of the world.

"Maybe it's because so many of us live in cities," I continued.

"Farmers had chores in the winter, of course, and severe weather could threaten the livestock. But by and large, winter was downtime for them, compared to the summer. They had time to take advantage of the winter. And winter is nicer in the country, too. In the cities, newly fallen snow is pretty but it gets ugly fast. I suppose it's no coincidence that most of the winter songs are set in the countryside. And I suppose television gets a share of the blame. We don't have to go outside to be entertained anymore."

"I'd have to guess, too, that Christmas merchandising plays a role. Business pumps up the Christmas feeling as much as it can to get people to buy more than they should, and you and the natural attractions of winter get drafted into the cause. Then, by December 26, everyone has been so saturated with Christmas-sell that they are sick of it and turn their backs on it all.

"In fact," I exclaimed excitedly as I had an early epiphany, "you and winter are ideal for merchandising because you aren't tainted by any religious associations. To the extent that Christmas becomes divorced from religion and becomes a purely secular, seasonal holiday, the better for business."

Frosty sighed. "So what you're saying is that the conflation of Christmas and winter is as disastrous for Christmas as it is for me."

We stood silently for a few long seconds. Nothing more to say, really. I handed him a five-spot. "Here, buy yourself some Blizzards, or maybe a banana split." I walked away depressed.

I knew that he would squander it at the convenience store. And I could not say I would blame him.

Patrick Callahan is an emeritus professor of political science at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois.

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