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When you think of winter, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? You’d probably see roads and houses covered in snow, with crisp and beautiful snowflakes slowly falling from the sky. People staying at home drinking a warm cup of coffee or cocoa while watching TV or reading a book would probably come to mind as well. Who wouldn’t love getting snowed in if they get to relax and stay inside their cozy homes?
However, there’s more to snowy weather than meets the eye. Aside from representing excitement over the holidays, it can symbolize many things – from youth and innocence to hardship and even death. Read on to learn more about what snow means in different contexts.
Symbolism of Snow
Snow is certainly a great backdrop to memorable scenes in both movies and books. Its pristine white color can symbolize great things such as innocence and new beginnings, but it can also go on the other end of the spectrum, representing a deep sense of sorrow and despair. Throw in a savage blizzard and the symbolic meaning of snow changes drastically, foreshadowing a potentially devastating event.
- Innocence and Purity – This association comes from the color of snow. White is typically used to represent purity, as it’s a color that is clean and fresh with no stains. However, over time, snow gets dirtier as it interacts with its environment, much like humans as we grow up and gain experiences.
- Winter – A perfect symbol of winter, snow represents the end of the year, and the time of hibernation, death, and darkness. However, snow also represents Christmas, which is a festive time for many. It symbolizes the merriment of the season and wintry games, such as ice skating and skiing.
- Death and Mortality – These associations of snow come from its coldness and season. Winter is the time of death and is often used as a metaphor for the final stages of a person’s life. By extension, snow represents these concepts as it’s a symbol of winter.
- Fun and Frivolity – Snow can bring out feelings of fun and merriment as people engage in activities such as building snowmen and having snowball fights. These aspects of snow associate it with fun, frivolity, and merriment. It can symbolize the childishness that exists in everyone.
- Stillness and Calm – Like the falling rain, a calm snowfall can also evoke a sense of calm, relaxation, and stillness.
Snow in Religion
Various cultures have used snowy weather as a symbol of their diverse spiritual beliefs. For example, in Christianity, snow is used as a symbol of purity. In the Bible verse Psalm 51:7, washing someone to make them clean is compared to being as white as snow. The same metaphor was used in East Asian philosophies, where snow was considered something fresh and uncontaminated.
Simon Jacobson, a rabbi who was born to a Chabad Hasidic family, also has an interesting interpretation of what snow means. In one of his essays, he explains that water is a symbol of knowledge. When it flows and descends, it transmits knowledge from higher to lower places, which represents the flow of information from a teacher to his students.
Unlike rain, snowflakes need a combination of both water and earth to form. While the water droplets condensing into each other represent God’s knowledge, the earth particles stand for the material world. This fascinating combination led to the view that snow is an intermediary between the Earth and heaven. Moreover, since snow eventually melts into water, this can be seen as a need to transfer knowledge to students in a gradual and accessible manner.
Snow in Celtic Folklore
Ever wondered why people usually hang mistletoe in their homes during winter? This tradition actually dates to an old legend.
In Celtic culture, two mythical figures represent winter and summer – Holly King and Oak King. While Holly King ruled winter, Oak King ruled summer. The former represented dark themes such as lack of growth and death, and the latter stood for a period of fertility and growth.
Every year, the Holly and Oak kings battled each other, with the winner dethroning the other and marking the start of the season he represented.
When the Holly King wins and brings winter, people traditionally hung holly leaves to show respect to him. Interestingly, even though people feared the Holly King because of the darkness he brought, he was never depicted as an evil force. In fact, he is portrayed as someone who looks like Santa Claus, riding a sled in a red suit.
Some say that the prickly leaves of holly can also ward off evil spirits. In addition, since holly is one of the few plants that can survive in the snow, it has grown to be considered a symbol of hope and resistance.
Snow in Literature
Like other types of weather, snow is a powerful literary device that can symbolize different things in different contexts.
In Ethan Frome, a book by Edith Wharton, winter and the snow it brings are used to symbolize bleakness, sadness, or death. At one point, the light from the snow-covered land reflects on a character’s face, emphasizing the emotions of the person.
In The Dead, one of James Joyce’s classic novels, snow is used to represent death and mortality. Snow falls all over Dublin on both the living and the dead. Some interpret this as a comparison between the dead and the living, implying that in that particular context, there’s no big difference between being dead and alive. Moreover, it serves as a reminder that mortality is universal and that in the end, everyone will share the same fate.
The strong association between snow and Christmas is partly because of the popularity of one of Charles Dickens’s greatest works – A Christmas Carol. In this story, the cold winter weather is used as a metaphor for how cold-hearted Scrooge can get. Other references to having a white Christmas, like in the song White Christmas, have been heavily influenced by this novel as well.
Snow in Movies
Many movies use snow to add more drama and set the tone of some unforgettable scenes. A great example is Citizen Kane, where an iconic snow globe falls from the hand of Charles Kane, linking his death to his childhood. The surroundings in the snow globe are peaceful and orderly, which was comparable to Kane’s life before Walter Thatcher became his guardian.
Another memorable film that metaphorically uses snow is Ice Age. While it simply makes sense to have the movie set in snowy weather because it happened during the Ice Age, the movie also alludes to the uncontrollable power of nature. Snow plays an omnipresent role in the film, having the power to end the lives of all of the characters who are struggling to survive the end of the Ice Age.
Finally, in the movie Dead Poets Society, snow is used to evoke one of the movie’s key themes. In one scene, Todd wakes up and heads to the lake with the rest of the boys. As he observes the beauty of the snow-covered land, he ends up vomiting and his friends comfort him by putting snow in his mouth. In this scene, snow is meant to symbolize the purity and innocence of youth, while the puddle of vomit suggests that the boys have lost their innocence and are reaching adulthood.
Snow in Dreams
Just like in folklore and literature, snow can be interpreted in many ways in dreams. In general, it represents a sense of emotional cleansing and the process of letting go of past sufferings to give way to new beginnings. In other contexts, it may also have a negative interpretation, implying a feeling of being deserted and isolated and reflecting sadness and despair.
Other interpretations say that when you dream of snow, it suggests that challenging times are coming. Such obstacles are meant to help you evolve and grow as a person, allowing you to soon enjoy a happy and peaceful chapter in your life. Some even say that snow brings good luck as it denotes personal growth, prosperity, and the accomplishment of certain goals.
Specific scenarios in dreams also have certain meanings.
For example, it is said that if you dream of yourself walking on snow, it means that good things are bound to happen to you, and that you will soon uncover new opportunities and enjoy a prosperous life. Footprints on the snow are also an excellent bonus, as it means that you have accomplished a goal or are about to receive good news. However, if you see yourself walking barefoot on the snow, it usually represents a feeling of sadness and despair.
Whether you’re looking to understand what snow means in your dreams or your favorite books or movies, understanding the context it is used in will surely help. Keep in mind that there is no single correct interpretation of snow, as it’s a natural phenomenon that contains many meanings.