19 December 2006
Season’s Greetings and Happy Holidays!
In my house that means Christmas and New Year’s. I wish you and your loved ones a joyous celebration in your traditions as well.
Elements of the popular American Christmas celebration–trees, cards, Jolly Santa–are products of the 19th Century. Cut evergreen trees were popular here by the 1840’s, and most people exchanged Christmas cards by the ’60s. Our modern Santa Claus image was established largely by political cartoonist Thomas Nast (1840-1902) during the Civil War and refined over the 30 years or so after.
Perhaps most recognizable to Civil War readers is this Nast depiction of the Elf himself, in union garb, distributing goodies to Federal troops at Christmas 1862.
The unflattering Jefferson Davis jumping-jack toy in his hand leaves no doubt as to Santa’s loyalties. That illustration, from the cover of Harper’s Weekly*, is also touted as an early attempt at psychological warfare.
I doubt Southern children were fooled.
* Harper’s Weekly, 3 January 1863, page image from the US Library of Congress.
added 22 December