I grew up in a house where Christmas was the favorite time of the year. From an early age, my sisters and I were encouraged to collect Christmas ornaments and décor so someday we would have so much holiday décor that we would have take time off from work (like our mother did!) to decorate.
Mom helped us each along by starting collections for her daughters. I was chosen to collect Snow Babies, popularized by the Department 56 company in the mid-1980s when it introduced the unglazed porcelain figurines that were made first made in the 1890s in Germany as cake toppers.
Before World War I, Snow Babies ranged from 5 to 7 inches tall and depicted children in one-piece snowsuits participating in winter activities like skiing, ice skating, and sledding. When Snow Baby production resumed after the war, the figurines made were smaller, usually ranging from 1 to 3 inches in size; models of children caroling, riding polar bears, and building snowmen also were designed.
Through high school and college, and into my married like, until she died in January 2008, my mother gave me a Snow Baby for Christmas and my birthday. My collection now numbers more than 30.
My husband and sons have never quite understood the appeal of the Snow Babies. Perhaps they don’t understand their vintage history, or they just don’t like figurines of little babies playing in the snow. So, for years my husband placed an annual call to my mother just as we were decorating. With much drama and elaboration, he explained, “Mary, we broke the Snow Babies.” Or, “Mary, I accidentally took the box of Snow Babies to donate.” It was a new story every year. And every year the Snow Babies were carefully removed from their boxes and placed for all of us to enjoy.