CHRISTMAS DURING THE WAR
And Some Customs Started During That Time
Many of today’s American Christmas customs really got a boost during of all times, the war. In the 1850's people in America began to put up Christmas trees and decorate them with strings of popcorn, dried fruit, pine cones and maybe some kind of candy. Interestingly enough it was New Year’s that people really celebrated with the exchanging of gifts and family gatherings with lots of food. Though before the war it was a happy time for the slaves on farms or plantations. The slaves during all times of the day would stop by the owners house with Christmas gifts for the family. In return, the family would give the slave families probably a new suit of clothes to each person. As far as the look of Santa was concerned that came from the illustrator Thomas Nast who worked for Harpers Weekly. The first drawing of Santa was in said publication during Christmas of 1863 giving out gifts to Union soldiers, dressed similarly the way he looks today, whiskers and all. Nast was an immigrant from Germany that came to America during the 1830's and went to art school in New York City and later aquired a job with Harpers Weekly. Festive cards did not begin until 1860, but the Christmas tree made its first appearance in Pennsylvania in the early 1800's. Trees were mostly popular with German immigrants on the East Coast and by the 1850's table top trees were popular on the eastern seaboard. Not all people were happy with the new traditions. The Calvinists and Puritans fined people who celebrated Christmas, because they saw it as a holiday that had been taken over by pagan traditions.
The first printed image of a decorated American Christmas tree appeared in 1836, when it was published in a booklet by a German immigrant. Of course Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” was published in 1843 and had a great influence on both sides of the Atlantic, but it was still relatively new during the war period.
In the Midwest, traditions took longer to adopt. A pastor in Cleveland, Ohio, set up a Christmas tree in the 1850's received public criticism for his foolishness. By the 1860's the Christmas tree had become an established part of the holiday celebrations. Santa, who also grew from German traditions, was not immortalized in America until 1822, when Clement Moore’s poem was published, “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” or more commonly known as “The Night Before Christmas.”
By the 1860'a Santa was an established and wellloved figure of American children in both the North and South. Of course there were other illustrators that helped promote the season also. Besides Nast, Winslow Homer and Alfred Waud created scenes of Santa, Christmas trees, gift-giving, caroling, holiday feasting and Christmas cards. It was Nast and Homer that created scenes of the wartime practice of sending Christmas boxes filled with homemade clothes and food items to soldiers at the front.