I first heard about sparkling frosty windows in winter when I first read Little House in the Big Woods as a child, growing up in California's Silicon Valley. Definitely no personal experience with this icy wonder, but Laura's vivid descriptions captured my attention and my imagination.
The snow kept coming till it was drifted and banked against the house. In the mornings the window panes were covered with frost in beautiful pictures of trees and flowers and fairies.It wasn't until I was an adult with three kids (one still in utero) that I experienced these winter wonders first-hand. We moved into an un-insulated 1890s farmhouse with only one heat-vent upstairs (and single-pane windows with somewhat flimsy storm windows). The house had its share of challenges and LOTS of do-it-yourself home project, but we had the most beautiful frosted windows - particularly on the very coldest of days.
Ma said that Jack Frost came in the night and made the pictures, while everyone was asleep. Laura thought that Jack Frost was a little man all snowy white, wearing a glittering white pointed cap and soft white knee-boots made of deer-skin. His coat was white and his mittens were white, and he did not carry a gun on his back, but in his hands he had shining sharp tools with which he carved the pictures.
Laura and Mary were allowed to take Ma's thimble and make pretty patterns of circles in the frost on the glass. But they never spoiled the pictures that Jack Frost had made in the night.
In The Mitchells: Five for Victory by Hilda Van Stockum, the children experience beautiful frosted windows for the first time on Christmas when the heat goes out:
Mother went upstairs again and almost collided with Patsy, who came tearing down the steps in all manner of excitement.
"There are pictures on our windows!" she cried. "Real Christmas pictures, all white and sparkly. Come and look, Mother!" Mother went up obediently, and was greeted by Una and Joan with "Merry Christmas" hugs and shown the windows, on which the night's frost had painted delicate ferns and flowers.
"We used to see those often when I was a girl," she said. "I used to lie awake and watch the moon shining through them. But the hot waterpipes have chased them. Our furnace isn't working today."
"Oh, isn't it lovely?" cried the girls. "Such a surprise for Christmas!"
We really enjoyed these little connections with real life. Now we live in a more modern, well-insulated (1970s) house with double-paned windows, but my older kids are rather proud that some day they'll be able to tell their children and grand-children that "When we were kids..." :)
Related (and loosely-related) Links:
CalTech's "Guide to Frost"
An Ice Crystals Photo Gallery
Ice Crystal Experiments from the Exploratorium
Snow Crystal Photography
By the way, if you're interested in ice crystals, check out The Snowflake: Winter's Secret Beauty by Kenneth Libbrecht, with snow-crystal photography by Patricia Rasmussen. It's a rather hefty picture book (112 pages), filled with amazing photographs of snowflakes and a detailed (but quite readable) text that explains the science of snow.