Skip to comments.Thomas Nast's "Pro War" Santa
Posted on 12/24/2005 2:56:30 PM PST by Sam Hill
Since we have been on a Thomas Nast tear lately, it is only right and fitting that we should return to him at Christmas, as he is more or less the inventor of our Santa Claus.
Surprisingly, Nast's very first depiction of Santa Claus was a piece of political propaganda, done at the request of President Lincoln himself.
Lincoln thought a drawing showing Santa Claus in the Union camp would boost the North's morale and demoralize the South. It is reported to have accomplished both of these goals.
Shocking, isn't it? Our one party media's delicate sensibilities would not stand for such an outrage today. Unless of course it was done to further their agenda.
From the Son Of The South's Thomas Nast Collection:
Thomas Nast's Original Civil War "Santa Claus In Camp"
This is Thomas Nast's earliest published picture of Santa Claus. Nast is generally credited with creating our popular image of Santa. This illustration appeared in the January 3, 1863 edition of Harper's Weekly, and shows Santa Claus visiting a Civil War Camp. In the background, a sign can be seen that reads "Welcome Santa Claus."
The illustration shows Santa handing out gifts to Children and Soldiers. One soldier receives a new pair of socks, which would no doubt be one of the most wonderful things a soldier of the time could receive. Santa is pictured sitting on his sleigh, which is being pulled by reindeer. Santa is pictured with a long white beard, a furry hat, collar and belt. We can see that many of our modern perceptions of Santa Claus are demonstrated in the 140 year old print.
Perhaps most interesting about this print is the special gift in Santa's hand. Santa is holding a dancing puppet of none-other-than Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America. The likeness to Jefferson Davis is unmistakable. Even more interesting, Davis appears to have the string tied around his neck, so Santa appears to by Lynching Jefferson Davis!
And from the archives of Harper's Weekly:
While setting the national standard, Nasts own depiction of Santa Claus changed over the years. He began his almost-annual contribution of Christmas illustrations when he joined the staff of Harpers Weekly in 1862 during the Civil War.
His first Santa (in the postdated January 3, 1863 issue) is a small elf distributing Christmas presents to Union soldiers in camp. Santa dangles by the neck a comical jumping jack identified in accompanying text as Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president. There was no doubt in Nasts illustration whose side Santa favors in the war.
Although other artists of the period sketched Santa Claus, Nast stands apart from the rest for his role in creating and popularizing the modern image of the Christmas figure. He contributed 33 Christmas drawings to Harpers Weekly from 1863 through 1886, and Santa is seen or referenced in all but one.
Nasts full-page illustration of Santa Claus in 1881 [below] quickly attained status akin to an official portrait, and is still widely reproduced today. Before Nast, different regions, ethnic groups, and artists in the United States presented Santa Claus in various ways. A sketch in Harpers Weekly from 1858 shows a beardless Santa whose sleigh is pulled by a turkey.
Nast was instrumental in standardizing and nationalizing the image of a jolly, kind, and portly Santa in a red, fur-trimmed suit delivering toys from his North Pole workshop.
Christmas context ping.
I have a feeling some FReepers will be ripping down Santa imagery tonight...
Not according to this article at Snopes.com.
What part of more or less don't you understand?
I'm talking about our image of him. If you click on the links in the article, you will see that is the generally accepted view.
So you "more or less" haven't said anything in this article, have you?
Wonder why that image didn't catch on?
No trolls for Christmas, please Santa.
Still, one of the first artists to capture Santa Claus' image as we know him today was Thomas Nast, an American cartoonist of the 19th century. In 1863, a picture of Santa illustrated by Nast appeared in Harper's Weekly (it is believed the inspiration for his image came from the Pelznickle).
"Go ahead, make my Christmas Day."
Ah, so anyone who finds references contradicting one of your theories must be a troll. There's just no other explanation.
LOL. Merry Christmas.
(Didn't somebody tell 'em you simply can't get out of wearing corsets with those clothes? As one of Kipling's characters said, "Satan himself can't save a woman who wears thirty-shilling corsets under a thirty-guinea costume.")
Civil War Santa
A Christmas, 1863: To cheer his embattled troops, President Lincoln had cartoonist Thomas Nast design the splendidly patriotic Santa, which appeared on broadsides distributed to the soldiers on Christmas Day. (The children in his sack, included by Nast at Lincoln's request, represent the children affected by the war.) Designed by Vaillancourt Folk Art, the ornament adaptation is hand painted blown glass, while the figurine (not shown) is exquisitely hand-painted chalk ware.
Yeah, it's my theory that Nast created the American image of Santa Claus.
Do yourself a favor and read a book. And then don't get back to me.
Santa Claus and His Works
This multi-framed illustration of Santa Claus and His Works was artist Thomas Nasts first major depiction of Santa Claus in Harpers Weekly (appearing in the postdated December 29, 1866 issue). Although other artists of the period sketched Santa Claus, Nast stands apart from the rest for his role in creating and popularizing the modern image of the Christmas figure. He contributed 33 Christmas drawings to Harpers Weekly from 1863 through 1886, and Santa is seen or referenced in all but one. Nasts full-page illustration of Santa Claus in 1881 quickly attained status akin to an official portrait, and is still widely reproduced today. Before Nast, different regions, ethnic groups, and artists in the United States presented Santa Claus in various ways. A sketch in Harpers Weekly from 1858 shows a beardless Santa whose sleigh is pulled by a turkey. Nast was instrumental in standardizing and nationalizing the image of a jolly, kind, and portly Santa in a red, fur-trimmed suit delivering toys from his North Pole workshop. This was accomplished through his work in the pages of Harpers Weekly, his contributions to other publications, and by Christmas-card merchants in the 1870s and 1880s who relied heavily upon his portraiture.
In the featured Santa and His Works, Nast adapts characteristics from his German heritage (he was born in Bavaria) and from Clement Clark Moores famous 1822 poem A Visit From St. Nicholas (commonly known as Twas the Night Before Christmas), but the artist adds other aspects developed from his own creative mind and talented pen. The effect is to unveil much of the mystery behind Santa Claus by presenting a more complete account of his life, mission, and home. Instead of depicting him merely delivering gifts, the entire process of his work is detailed from the preparation to the execution to the recovery. The centerpiece is what children hope for: Santa stuffing stockings hung on the fireplace, as toys lie on the floor. He is plump, white-bearded, red-nosed, dressed all in fur, carries the sack of a peddler (evoking earlier lore of Santa as a peddler), and is still the short elf of Moores poetic version (here, Santa needs a chair to reach the mantle).
Along the sides, Nast adds parallel circular insets. To fulfill Santas traditional task of rewarding nice children and punishing naughty children, Santa uses a telescope to locate good children (upper-left), and records the behavior of children in an enormous account book (upper-right). On the center-left, he is seen in his workshop carefully crafting toys by hand (as opposed to the increasing reliance on factory production in America). On the center-right, he is taking a well-deserved post-Christmas rest in a rocking chair placed before a fireplace, as he holds a meerschaum pipe popular among Germans, Dutch, and their American descendents. On the lower-left, the diminutive Santa uses a ladder to decorate the Christmas tree (another German tradition), and on the lower-right, sews doll clothing by hand (rather than using a sewing machine). Three years later, in 1869, Santa and His Works was included in a new publication of Moores poem illustrated by Nast. At that time, Santas suit was changed to the red color for which it has thereafter been associated.
The origin of Santas home at the North Pole is uncertain, but in Santa and His Works Nast may have been the first illustrator to so identify the locale. (An 1857 illustration in Harpers Weekly shows Santa preparing to leave a snowy but unnamed homeland.) In the late 1840s and the 1850s a series of expeditions to the Arctic captured public attention, and the area began to be discussed as the home of the elusive Santa Claus. Year-round the North Pole had the snow that was becoming associated in the popular image with Christmas (the American publishers of magazines, books, and cards carrying Christmas illustrations were headquartered in the snowy Northeast). Furthermore, the North Pole's geographic isolation permitted the jolly old elf to work without interruption, and the regions independence from all nations allowed Santa to be a symbol of universal good will. The reference to the North Pole in the featured cartoon is on the curving border in the upper-right and reads Santa Claussville, N. P. The linkage of symbol and place was obviously common enough by 1866 that Nast realized he could simply abbreviate North Pole.
While setting the national standard, Nasts own depiction of Santa Claus changed over the years. He began his almost-annual contribution of Christmas illustrations when he joined the staff of Harpers Weekly in 1862 during the Civil War. His first Santa (in the postdated January 3, 1863 issue) is a small elf distributing Christmas presents to Union soldiers in camp. Santa dangles by the neck a comical jumping jack identified in accompanying text as Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president. There was no doubt in Nasts illustration whose side Santa favors in the war. Besides the military context, the cartoon is set off from later ones in that the gift giving is for adults, not children (except for the drummer boys). The other two Christmas illustrations of Nasts published during the Civil War emphasize family scenes, with Santa relegated to the background.
From 1866-1871, Nast continued to elaborate upon the image of Santa Claus portrayed in Santa and His Works. As in the featured cartoon, he also emphasized during this period Santas disciplinary role in judging whether the behavior of children during the past year warranted Christmas rewards or punishment. In an 1870 cartoon, Santa surprises two naughty children by jumping out as a jack-in-the-box clutching a switch for spanking. In 1871, Santa sits at his desk reading letter from parents chronicling their childrens good and bad acts, with the letters from naughty childrens parents far outnumbering the letters from good childrens parents. It is probably not coincidental that Nast was at that time the father of several young children (the eldest, Julia, was 9 years old in 1871). Whatever the reason, the cartoons helped revive the idea of Santa as reinforcing parental discipline, a notion that had waned since the publication of Moores poem in which Santa brought a happy Christmas to all.
Through the rest of the 1870s, Nasts Santa Claus was no longer the disciplinarian, but, instead, played a cat-and-mouse game with children in which he tried not to be seen and they tried to catch him in the act of delivering presents. Again, the illustrations likely reflected the situation in Nasts home, where he loved to wrap presents and celebrate the season, but at a time when his children had become old enough to try to find the gifts and nab the gift-giver. In Santa Waiting for Children to Get to Sleep (1874), Santa is forced to delay on a rooftop because children in the house below are still awake. A related poem blames the late-night hours of the family on the use of gas lighting in homes.
As Nasts own children entered and left their teen years, knowing that Santa was really their father, the artists illustrations finally showed direct communication and interaction between Santa Claus and the pictured children. In a postdated January 1879 issue, a girl drops a letter to Santa in a mailbox (the first time the artist depicted a letter from a child to Santa), and in December 1884, Santa and a girl are able to speak with each other by using a relatively new invention, the telephone. In the January 1879 issue, another Nast cartoon portrays Santa Claus in the midst of a group of gleeful children who he embraces affectionately. Santa is now recognized as part of the family, whose shared love is the greatest gift. Nasts Santa makes his last featured appearance in Harpers Weekly in 1885 when the jolly old (man-size) elf offers himself as a present. Nasts last two Christmas illustrations in Harpers Weekly appeared in December 1886, when he resigned from the newspaper, but his impact on the popular image of Santa Claus continued and remains potent to this day.
When Clement Clarke Moore wrote his immortal poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas which described Santa Claus in such a vivid way and gave lively names to his reindeer, he inspired the famous Harpers Weekly cartoonist, Thomas Nast.
Until Nast picked up his pen, Americas images of Santa Claus were many. No one characterization really stuck to him. Some thought of him as a man in buckskin, a throwback to the pioneer days. Others saw him as the mitred bishop from the Old World. Still others saw him as a sprightly gent in Dutch garments, chewing on a long pipe.
Nasts pen-and-ink drawings gave Santa the universal image he enjoys today. . the plump. comfortable, loveable gent with the bag of toys on his back. He was still a bit of an elf, as the poem might suggest, but he soon would grow in size with the help from Madison Avenue.
The Harpers Weekly drawings featured in the 1860s included a cover picture of Santa dressed in Stars and Stripes, presenting gifts to the Union soldiers at camp. Another had him jumping from sleigh to chimney with a pipe clenched in his teeth. Often, his drawings included children nestled snugly in their beds as Santa made his rounds.
Abraham Lincoln was president at the time and asked Nast to create a Santa image for America.