A snow baby (sometimes spelled snowbaby) is a small figurine that depicts some aspect of the Christmas holidays or of winter sports such as skiing and ice skating. The traditional snow baby is made of unglazed porcelain (bisque) and shows a child dressed in a snow suit; the suit itself is covered in small pieces of crushed bisque, giving the appearance of fallen snowflakes. However, many other sorts of figures are typically associated with these snowy children: Santas, elves and gnomes, carolers, animals such as penguins and polar bears, adult sledders and skaters, snowmen, and even houses and Disney characters. Collectors in the United States and Europe will sometimes decorate for the holidays using these figures to create winter scenes of varying degrees of complexity.
Although classical snow babies stand under 2 inches high and were often used in England as cake decorations, there are many variations. Some of the oldest types, made in Germany during the decade beginning about 1905, ranged from 4 to 13 inches tall and were carefully painted by master artisans. Other babies created during this early period were crafted with similar attention to detail. With the onset of World War I, production stopped; when it resumed sometime around 1922, the snow babies were more hastily made, less finely detailed in their porcelain and finish. Yet these newer pieces show children, Santas, and elves in remarkably imaginative poses: a child feeds a seal from a baby bottle; Santa drops toys from an airplane; two dwarves dance atop a psychedelic mushroom. The variations are nearly endless: one estimate puts their number at well over 2000.
Just before World War II, Japan began to produce snow babies, though they were generally of a lesser quality than those made in Germany. In the late 20th Century, a company called Department 56 began producing snow babies in Taiwan.