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Like other snowmen this season, the one camped in front of the Stelley home in East Aurora has had its ups and downs. At its tallest, "Burl Ives" - as his family dubbed him - stood nearly 12 feet tall.

Then came the rain.

"He probably melted down to 6 feet once or twice, but we keep building him up," said Tim Stelley who, with the help of his 3-year-old son, John Lyle Stelley, began building Burl in November.

Threats of global warming aside, cool snowmen reserve a warm place in our hearts.

Stelley started the Big Burl tradition when his son was a newborn. And they build it their way.

"We don't roll it; we just shovel it. It looks like a big "A'," said Stelley, who said that John Lyle likes to climb on Burl, knock him down a bit and do his part to build him back up with the aid of his own small shovel.

But snowmen are more than a fun tradition. They also occupy a significant place in folklore, literature, song, decor and our own childhood memories.

When the British Broadcasting Corp. devoted a segment to the snowman last year, guests on the show made the following observations:

About its appeal: "It's true there is a magic about it, even if you live in the city - opening curtains to find everything covered in a blanket of pristine snow, it lifts you up. And perhaps that snowman is the embodiment of something purer and untouched. To build a snowman and have more snow fall on it, that is magical," said one man.

About its history: "Probably our ancient ancestors all over the world used snow as they would use other materials - to make effigies and to make figures, sometimes for religious purposes, but more often just for fun. Snow is a medium, a material that invites play, and I think our ancestors appreciated all those qualities for many centuries," said another.

About its fate when the sun heats up: "It's like they shrink and then they die," commented a child.

Of course, snowmen appear in places other than front yards. A popular image this time of year, they show up on dinnerware, greeting cards, flannel sheets, clothing and more.

And people amass them, displaying them well past Christmas.

In the Stelley family, a collection of snowmen figurines inhabits the mantel. Even after the holiday decorations are packed away, the snowmen remain until spring.

Tricia Cusack, another BBC guest and an art historian from Birmingham University, England, has studied snowmen imagery on Christmas cards and street decorations in Britain, and observed the following:

Snowmen have in recent years joined Rudolph and Santa as one of the secular symbols of Christmas.

The snowman's pipe of yesteryear has nearly disappeared, making way for the non-smoking snowman.

The typical location of snowmen on Christmas cards - just outside the home in the garden - reinforces "a spacial-social system marking women's sphere as the domestic-private and the men's as the commercial-public."

So very 19th century.

Here are some more snowman stories to digest while waiting for the next great snowfall.

May the flakes be perfect for packing.

Good parents build snowmen

Parental advice from the St Louis-Post Dispatch: "Spend as much time as possible with your kids without pawning them off or getting baby sitters for everything. Take them to the park or to the library; go out and build a snowman. Just spend some time with them. It doesn't have to cost money."

Burn, baby, burn

This, reported in Sunset magazine: A 132-pound person can burn 150 calories per hour building a snowman.

Dreams come true

A 6-year-old Texan girl suffering from cystic fibrosis was once asked what she would wish for if she had one wish.

It wasn't to visit Disney World. It was to build a snowman.

That's when a local radio station and a company called American Ice stepped in, importing 180 bags of shaved ice - enough to cover Kandice Schaefer's yard with a foot or so of snow.

Kandice, the youngest of eight children, got her wish. She built her snowman - and named him Frosty.

Good line

When basketball veteran Charles Oakley was traded to the Toronto Raptors in 1998 after a decade with the New York Knicks, he had this to say: "I'm trying to forget about New York. I'm trying to build a new foundation. I just might have to build a snowman first."

Good book

In the children's book, "Snowballs" (Harcourt, $7 paperback/$16 hardcover), Lois Ehlert invites readers to dress warmly, head outside, start rolling that snow and create an entire snow family, including pets, using such interesting adornments as birdseed, bright fabrics, luggage tags, stones, buttons and other great stuff from indoors and out.

Stay indoors

Would you rather roll a mouse than a snowball? You can always create and accessorize your snowman via computer.

One site to check out: build_a_snowman.html.

Here, you can choose from a selection of hats, scarves, coal eyes, carrot noses and other accessories and "drag" them over to dress your snowman.

And enjoy your hot cocoa at the same time.

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