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A Christmas snow globe

A snow globe is a transparent sphere usually made of glass enclosing a miniaturized scene of some sort, often together with a model of a landscape. The sphere also encloses the water in the globe; the water serves as the medium through which the "snow" falls. To activate the snow, the globe is shaken to churn up the white particles. The globe is then placed back in its position and the flakes fall down slowly through the water. Snow globes sometimes have a built-in music box that plays a Christmas carol.

Contents

History

Precisely when the first snow globe (also called a" waterglobe", "snowstorm"[1], or "snowdome") was made remains unclear, but they appear to date from France during the early 1800s. They may have appeared as a successor to the glass paperweight, which became popular a few years earlier. Snow globes appeared at the Paris Universal Expo of 1878, and by 1879 at least five companies were producing snow globes and selling them throughout Europe.

A girl shaking a snow globe.

In 1889, a snow globe containing a model of the newly built Eiffel Tower was produced to commemorate the International Exposition in Paris, which marked the centenary of the French Revolution. Snow globes became popular in England during the Victorian era and, in the early 1920s, crossed the Atlantic to the United States of America where they became a popular collectors item. Many of these globes were produced by Atlas Crystal Works, which had factories in Germany and America.

In the United States, the first snow globe-related patent was granted in 1927 to Joseph Garaja of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1929, Garaja convinced Novelty Pool Ornaments to manufacture a fish version underwater.

In America, during the 1940s, snow globes were often used for advertising. In Europe, during the 1940s and 1950s, religious snow globes were common gifts for Catholic children. Snow globes have appeared in a number of film scenes, the most famous of which is the opening of the 1941 classic Citizen Kane.

In the 1950s the globes, which were previously of glass construction, became available in plastic. Currently, there are many different types of snow globes available. These globes are produced by a number of countries and range from the mass produced versions of Hong Kong and China to the finely crafted types still produced in West Germany. Snow globes feature diverse scenes, ranging from the typical holiday souvenirs to more eclectic collectibles featuring Christmas scenes, Disney characters, popular icons, animals, military figures, historical scenes, etc. Snow globes have even been used for election campaigns.

Production

Religious snowglobes for sale at Vatican City.

Initially snow globes consisted of a heavy lead glass dome which was placed over a ceramic figure or tableau on a black cast ceramic base, filled with water and then sealed. The snow or "flitter" was created by use of bone chips or pieces of porcelain, sand or even sawdust. As they became more sophisticated, the glass became thinner, the bases were lighter (Bakelite was popular during the Art Deco period) and the snow was made out of particles of gold foil or non-soluble soap flakes, although nowadays, for health and safety reasons, small pieces of white plastic are used. Later, the liquid was changed to light oil, then water with antifreeze (glycerin or glycol). An added benefit was that glycerin and glycol slowed the descent of the snow.

Today's snow globes can include music boxes, moving parts, internal lights, and even electric motors that make the "snow" move so that it is no longer necessary to shake the globe. Some also have central slots for positioning items such as photographs.

Forced-air globes

Beginning in 2005, many U.S. stores sell inflatable snow globes as part of their Christmas décor. These have a base with a blower, forcing air which carries styrofoam pellets from the bottom and through a tube up the back to the top, where they are blown out and fall down inside the front, which is made of transparent vinyl. The rest of the globe, including the characters inside, are made of colorful nylon fabric. These globes are typically large decorations for the front yard, and are lighted internally with a few C7 (nightlight-type) incandescent light bulbs (which are enclosed in plastic spheres to prevent heat damage to the fabric).

A variation on this is the "tornado globe", where small foam objects spin around inside a globe. This is more common for Halloween décor, where foam bats or sometimes ghosts may fly around the Halloween figures in the middle. These were most common in 2006, and come in both large inflatables, and smaller tabletop versions with rigid plastic globes about 8 to 12 inches or 20 to 30 centimeters in diameter. As with the snow globes, static cling often causes the foam to stick to the plastic (especially vinyl) when humidity is low, while condensation will do the same thing on outdoor inflatables when humidity is high, or rainwater has seeped in while it is deflated.

Cultural references

In modern film and literature, snow globes often symbolize childhood, innocence or so-called "happy days" in the life of the respective character.

  • In the film Citizen Kane, Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) drops a snow globe and gasps "Rosebud" as he dies.
  • In the TV series Lost, the character Desmond believes that no one can escape from the Island because it's "in a bloody snow globe".
  • Richard Gere's character kills his wife's lover with a snow globe in the movie Unfaithful.
  • In the 1994 Disney film The Santa Clause Bernard the head elf (David Krumholtz) gives Charlie (Eric Loyd) a magical snow globe with an animated North Pole scene inside that allows him to see his father, Scott Calvin/Santa Claus (Tim Allen) anytime he wants. The snow globe is the link to his trip to the North Pole confirming it was not a dream.
  • In Miami Vice, Switek finds out only after his partner Zito's death that he collected snow globes, making the former realize that perhaps they did not know each other so well.
  • In the Joel Schumacher film Falling Down, the main character buys a snow globe as a present for his daughter.
  • In an episode of the show Heroes, entitled "The Hard Part", the show's antagonist, Sylar, gives his mother a snow globe, knowing how much she loved them.
  • In Pixar's Knick Knack a snowman stuck in a snow globe wants to reach a pretty "Sunny Miami" knick knack at the other end of the bookshelf.
  • The final episode of St. Elsewhere revealed that the events of the series were all the fantasy of an autistic boy who owned a snow globe housing a likeness of the St. Eligius hospital.
  • In the BBC sitcom The League of Gentlemen, Tubbs and Edward who run the Local Shop are obsessed with stopping 'non-locals' from purchasing anything in their shop, in particular a collection of snow globes (which they refer to as 'Precious Things') on a shelf, often accusing them of attempting to shop-lift ("He covets the precious things of the shop")
  • Snowglobe is the name of an ABC Family original holiday film.
  • In the 2007 Christmas special of Psych, the character Shawn Spencer gives a snowglobe to Carlton Lassiter (to remind him of certain nightmares) and a snowglobe to his father, Henry Spencer, of him fishing. Corbin Bernsen, who portrays Henry Spencer, collects snowglobes.
  • In a Christmas teaser for the game Rayman Raving Rabbids, a rabbid is seen in a snowglobe wearing a snowman outfit.
  • One opening sequence of the Simpsons features the family in a snow globe. A number of episodes also feature snow globes, mainly parodying the 'Rosebud' scene in Citizen Kane.
  • In the Watchmen graphic novel, Laurie Juspeczyk's childhood memory of accidentally breaking of a snowglobe (during a traumatic argument between Laurie's mother Sally Jupiter and Sally's husband and agent Laurence Schexnayder) prompts her to a sudden realization.
  • In one episode of Family Guy, Peter Griffin records over the snow globe moment of Citizen Kane, by revealing what "Rosebud" really means.
  • In Blinky Bill's White Christmas, Blinky breaks Wombo's most prized possession, a snow globe. Blinky and Flap then go to the Wollomi Pines to make him a real snow globe.
  • A snowglobe appears as one of the artifacts in "Warehouse 13". When shook, it releases a stream of ice or cold energy; Claudia Donovan carries it in her toolbelt and uses it to make drinks cold.
  • In Libba Bray's book, Going Bovine , snowglobes are used periodically as metaphors for the constraints of reality and life as we know it. At the end of the book, the main characters smash them, claiming that they are "freeing the snowglobes".

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