Page 21 - Discover Winter 2023
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popular national Santa Claus image. He would            shot him.
        eventually give him his official address as “The
                                                                       Prior to the war, plantation owners had
        North Pole”, since his drawings had become
                                                                customarily treated their slaves to small gifts
        internationally adopted. Nast was concerned
                                                                and special privileges on Christmas, as a gesture
        that St. Nick would need an address that was
                                                                of “goodwill”. Naturally, that would all change.
        not within any official national boundaries, so
                                                                However, not everyone went without gifts. The
        that no one country could claim him for political
                                                                most famous Christmas gift of the times was a
        propaganda, even as he had previously done so
                                                                telegram that General Sherman sent to President
               Our Civil War (which I will call it from
                                                                       On December 22, 1864, it read: “I beg
        now on for the sake of brevity) was responsible
                                                                to present you as a Christmas gift, the city of
        for establishing our true American Christmas
                                                                Savannah,” wrote Sherman, “with 100 and 50
        traditions. It was a time of great divide in our
                                                                guns and plenty of ammunition, also about
        nation, but ironically, it was also a time that
                                                                25,000 bales of cotton.”
        unified our Christmas traditions to a large extent.
        Nast’s illustrations also featured the Christmas               One of our favorite Christmas Carols was
        tree, and many other artists of his time did            inspired by the war and its devastating effects.
        likewise. The war and its attendant deprivations        Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem,
        served to increase the sentiments of the season as      "Christmas Bells" on Christmas Day 1864, after
        many soldiers would find themselves encamped            his son, Lieutenant Charles Appleton Longfellow,
        far from home at Christmas. Soldiers in some            was seriously wounded in November during the
        camps set up little Christmas trees as they             Mine Run Campaign. Having lost his wife a few
        endeavored to make whatever merry that they             years earlier, Longfellow had already been mired
        could among themselves.                                 in a deep depression. John Baptiste Calkin set the
                                                                poem to music sometime after 1872, and today it
               For their part, their families back home
                                                                is known by the more familiar title, "I Heard the
        also experienced increased angst over the
                                                                Bells on Christmas Day". Originally intended as
        separation, and its effect on family traditions. That
                                                                an anti-war protest, it has become a more classic
        widespread experience was in part what motivated
                                                                spiritual hymn over the years. The present day
        Harper’s Weekly to portray Santa Claus giving
                                                                version does not include two stanzas from the
        comfort to the soldiers.
                                                                original poem that focused on the war.
               Along with that, partisan sentiments also
                                                                       The heightened sense of war-time
        sprang up. The ravages of war naturally resulted
                                                                separation, combined with the mingling of sub
        in the scarcity of most commodities, and for
                                                                cultures in the armies, and the popularity of
        children, Christmas was altered. Presents were
                                                                Nast’s illustrations, all served to coalesce our
        fewer, especially in the war-torn South. By 1863,
                                                                nation into a more uniform and widely popular
        the Union blockade of the Southern coasts had
                                                                observance of Christmas.
        made it nearly impossible for goods to come
        through, so Santa Claus was unable to visit the                It is truly ironic that a war that sent brother
        average Confederate home. More than a few               against brother, neighbor against neighbor, and
        mothers explained the austerity to their children       states against states, would bring us closer together
        by telling them that Santa Claus would not be           in this way.
        able to run the blockade, or that the Yankees had

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