Clover’s Literary Corner: Holiday Nostalgia

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Suzy Snowflake

Here comes Suzy Snowflake
Dressed in a snow-white gown,
Tap, tap, tappin’ at your windowpane
To tell you she’s in town

Here comes Suzy Snowflake
Soon you will hear her say,
Come out everyone and play with me
I haven’t long to stay.

If you want to make a snowman,
I’ll help you make one, one, two, three!
If you want to take a sleigh ride,
Whee! The ride’s on me.

Here comes Suzy Snowflake,
Look at her tumblin’ down,
Bringing joy to every girl and boy
Suzy’s come to town!

Readers of a certain age may remember the magical cartoon “Suzy Snow-flake,” which was frequently shown on TV during the holiday season in the 1950s—alternating with “Frosty the Snowman” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”—as fillers between programs that didn’t quite fit the assigned time spot. Every time this artistic short came on TV, my sister and I would come running to watch it, enthralled by the delicate, mystical snow fairy dancing and drifting across the screen as she conjured winter wonders with a wave of her wand. This simple but mesmerizing three-minute production may be one reason I have loved snow all my life—or perhaps it was my love of snow that has always made this cartoon so dear to my heart. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and take three minutes to watch it now—just search YouTube for Suzy (with a Z) Snowflake, and look for the one from the Broadcast Museum.

Of course, the first time I saw the video on YouTube as an adult, I was amazed at how primitive and crude it seemed, representing the earliest forays into television technology. But as a child, when TV was an entirely new medium, it appeared to me as the height of dramatic dexterity. Wah Ming Chang created the stop-motion animation, using a technique which “physically manipulates an object so that it appears to move on its own. The object is moved in small increments between individually photographed frames, creating the illusion of movement when the series of frames is played as a fast sequence. Dolls with movable joints or clay figures are often used … for their ease of repositioning” (Wikipedia). So what we are actually seeing is a simple ballerina puppet, wearing a bouffant white skirt and crystal crown, being dangled and spun behind a scrolling black skrim festooned with blurry lace snowflakes over a landscape of hills and trees cut from cardboard! Yet to my childhood eyes, this enchanting personification of a snowflake was as graceful and glamorous as an angel. The imagination that went into both the song and the animation are as delightful now as it was then.

The song, made famous in 1951 by Rosemary Clooney (of “Holiday Inn” and “White Christmas” fame), was soon made into the cartoon short, with ethereal vocals by a group of lilting sopranos. It was broadcast on Chicago’s WBBM (later WGN) for the first time in 1953, and became a holiday classic. The music and lyrics, written by Sid Tepper and arranged by Roy C. Bennett, capture the excitement and beauty of that first snowflake—every bit as welcome to children as Santa Claus’s arrival. The lyrics combine the joy of playing in the snow—sledding and building snowmen—with a recognition of its ephemeral nature, with “I haven’t long to stay.” The jaunty tune, easy to remember and fun to whistle, is tailor-made for a whimsical, dancing snow fairy. I don’t know why this song is no longer included in the shopping mall holiday repertoire along with other oft-repeated mid-century classics, but it still airs each December in Chicago.

Growing up in a theatrical household—my mother sang roles from Bloody Mary to Katisha to Hansel and Gretel’s witch in the Humperdinck opera—my older sister and I caught the drama bug early, and singing was a family affair. It soon became a tradition to present a Christmas Pageant to my (barely awake) parents first thing (i.e. 6 a.m.) every Christmas morning—one that lasted for several years in the ’50s and ’60s. We would carry in a chair for Granny, who lived with us. We spent many engrossing hours planning the pageant, making the costumes, hand writing the programs, and staging the various numbers. Mostly these consisted of acting out hymns and Christmas songs, which we carefully rehearsed—two young girls bonding for life over creative collaboration.

Each act—as many as 15—would have two names, one the name of the song or hymn and one silly—for example, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” or “Clover’s out-of-joint neck” and “We Three Kings of Orient Are,” or “Smoky eats the frankincense.” We rehearsed ad infinitum in our third story bedroom, where my closet, which had a curtain for a door, served as “back stage.” One of us would emerge from it on cue, waving stars, shepherd’s crooks, or Pharaoh’s sword—as, for example, the angels heard on high, the blooming rose, or one of us yelling “This, this is Christ the Lord!” in response to the innocent question “What child is this?” Miscues and other shenanigans often cracked us up so that we would become speechless with laughter, and our mother would climb the stairs to make sure we were alright. Although the religious aspects of the holiday were not central to these pageants (and some were even irreverent spoofs), my baby doll did make frequent appearances. As did my various cats, Rumpus and Smoky among them, whom we enlisted to play any needed additional parts—although their cooperation was not guaranteed. When Smoky was cast as one of the Three Kings, he objected so strongly to wearing his crown that he clawed his way out of my arms and tore out of the room.

One banner year, I was lucky enough to be cast as Suzy Snowflake herself. As an aspiring ballerina already, I wore a beautiful white ballet skirt over white leotard and tights. And that hair! Suzy’s wig was our masterpiece. We must have used four or five boxes of those long, silky, silver tinsel icicles, which we painstakingly bound together to create a beautiful, long wig that cascaded over my shoulders. As Candy sang the song, I came pirouetting out of the wings (my parents’ closet) and swooped and twirled around the room, waving my wand and tapping on the imaginary windowpane while my icicle hair swung and shimmered across my face. How beautiful I felt! If only we had had home video in those days. And how kind the applause. This may have been the apex of my stage career!

When I hear “Suzy Snowflake,” it still reminds me of home—of winters in Washington, D.C., with sparkling crystals swirling around the streetlamps, snow crystals kissing my cheek, the warmth of family, and a musical household that could sing Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” from memory, in four-part harmony. I hope you, too, enjoy celebrating memory, tradition, and childhood this holiday season. Special thanks to my sister for helping me to reconstitute these long-ago memories. Let’s hope Suzy Snowflake—one of my fondest of these—makes many visits to Crozet this winter!

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