Merry Christmas via 1862

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.

St. Nicholas (Thomas Nast, c. 1880)

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.

Santa in Camp (Nast -small)click to see larger image
Santa Claus in Camp (Thomas Nast, 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.

See much more about Christmas and the Civil War, from Kevin “Santa” Rawlings and historic Fort Ward.

added 22 December

K. Rawlings

See Kevin Rawlings, above, at work as Santa earlier this week, and an article from Maggie MacLean with much more from the ACW homefront.

2 Responses to “Merry Christmas via 1862”

  1. LorriM says:

    Congratulations on making it into 9rules!

    I like your site, and can see why you made the network.

    I have been a member since Round 4.

  2. Brian says:

    Thanks Lorri – I hope I’ll be a good neighbor!

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