Vintage Civil War Christmas Eve Etching (published "Harper's Weekly," January 3, 1863)

Douglas E.  Welch

Los Angeles, United States

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“Nast’s image was published in the 1862 Christmas issue of Harper’s Weekly, during days filled with both trials for the Union and rising hope. Large central vignettes depict a soldier and his wife, separated but thinking of and praying for one another. This was the moment that Nast conceived and introduced our modern image of Santa Claus. Combining European traditions of St. Nicholas with folk images of elves from his native Germany, he created the jolly gift-giver now associated with Christmas. Above at left, Santa has landed on a rooftop and prepares to descend the chimney. At right he is pulled through an army camp in a sleigh and tosses gifts to grateful soldiers. Somber scenes below remind of a grimmer reality—an army marching through snow and a row of frozen graves that refers to the Union’s recent failure to take Fredericksburg, Virginia, and many subsequent deaths from exposure. At right, a foundering ship symbolizes the challenges endured by the nation and uncannily foreshadows the December 31 sinking of the U.S.S. Monitor, the first ironclas, in a strom off Cape Hatteras. This title page of the same issue also featured Santa Claus (see 33.35.11 and 29.88.4(7)).” — The Met

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