Our popular image of Santa Claus has evolved over the years primarily through the work of Clement Moore's (possibly plagiarized)1823 poem A Visit From St. Nicholas, the nineteenth century drawings by Thomas Nast for Harper's Weekly, and the twentieth century paintings by Haddon Sundblom for Coca-Cola. The one shown here is the first of Nast's Santas and it was drawn at the request of Abraham Lincoln as a bit of psychological warfare.
Santa is shown handing out gifts to Union Soldiers and children at a time in the war when the south was blockaded and suffering severe deprivation. There was no question of Confederate children receiving presents that year.
Notice the soldier on the left finding a pair of socks in his package--a precious gift indeed for an infantryman. Santa's raiment displays stars and stripes to show where his loyalty lies. He is holding a puppet which is thought to be the effigy of Jefferson Davis with a noose around his neck.
Is it me, or has the Christmas spirit diminished in our time? I can easily list all the distractions we face: the economy, the war, disasters, and our especially vituperative political scene. But something else is missing, and it's not just that there's no hot toy this season or that the Christmas release movies haven't caught on. As a Jew, it's probably not appropriate for me to criticize, but I feel it nonetheless: an absence of hope and purpose, a feeling that all we're doing is hanging onto what we've got and defending it against those who are envious.
2011 has been a difficult and dispiriting year. My personal vow is to be of greater service in 2012 and this may impinge upon my ability to maintain this blog's weekly schedule. Meanwhile, I wish everyone who drops by the happiest of holidays and a new year of restored, if not fulfilled, hope.
Santa Claus by Thomas Nast, 1863. Nast also created Uncle Sam. Click on the picture for a closer look.