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Thomas Nast’s “Pro War” Santa Cartoon

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:

(Click to enlarge)

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, Nast’s own depiction of Santa Claus changed over the years. He began his almost-annual contribution of Christmas illustrations when he joined the staff of Harper’s 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 Nast’s 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 Harper’s Weekly from 1863 through 1886, and Santa is seen or referenced in all but one.

Nast’s 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 Harper’s 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 article was posted by Steve Gilbert on Friday, December 23rd, 2005. Comments are currently closed.

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