Christmas 2018 questions: Who invented Santa Claus? Who really wrote the “Night Before Christmas?”

December 19, 2018

An encore post and Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub tradition from 2007, with modifications.

“Today in History from the Associated Press notes, for December 23:

In 1823, the poem “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” was published anonymously in the Troy (N.Y.) Sentinel; the verse, more popularly known as “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” was later attributed to Clement C. Moore.

Regardless who wrote the poem first published 195 years ago, how did the poem influence America’s view of St. Nicholas, or Santa Claus?  And how much of the Santa Claus story really was invented in America?

Thomas Nast invented Santa Claus? Clement C. Moore didn’t write the famous poem that starts out, “‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house . . . ?”

The murky waters of history from Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub soak even our most cherished ideas and traditions.

Isn’t that part of the fun of history?

Santa Claus delivers to Union soldiers, "Santa Claus in Camp" - Thomas Nast, Harper's Weekly, Jan 3, 1863

In Janaury 1863, Thomas Nast portrayed Santa Claus as he delivered gifts to Union troops a few days earlier in Washington, D.C., wearing a blue, star-spangled coat.

Yes, Virginia (and California, too)! Thomas Nast created the image of Santa Claus most of us in the U.S. know today. Perhaps even more significant than his campaign against the graft of Boss Tweed, Nast’s popularization of a fat, jolly elf who delivers good things to people for Christmas makes one of the great stories in commercial illustration. Nast’s cartoons, mostly for the popular news publication Harper’s Weekly, created many of the conventions of modern political cartooning and modeled the way in which an illustrator could campaign for good, with his campaign against the graft of Tammany Hall and Tweed. But Nast’s popular vision of Santa Claus can be said to be the foundation for the modern mercantile flurry around Christmas.

Nast is probably ensconced in a cartoonists’ hall of fame. Perhaps he should be in a business or sales hall of fame, too.  [See also Bill Casselman’s page, “The Man Who Designed Santa Claus.]

Nast’s drawings probably drew some inspiration from the poem, “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” traditionally attributed to Clement C. Moore, a New York City lawyer, published in 1822. The poem is among the earliest to describe the elf dressed in fur, and magically coming down a chimney to leave toys for children; the poem invented the reindeer-pulled sleigh.

Modern analysis suggests the poem was not the work of Moore, and many critics and historians now attribute it to Major Henry Livingston, Jr. (1748-1828) following sleuthing by Vassar College Prof. Don Foster in 2000. Fortunately for us, we do not need to be partisans in such a query to enjoy the poem (a complete copy of which is below the fold).

The Library of Congress still gives Moore the credit. When disputes arise over who wrote about the night before Christmas, is it any wonder more controversial topics produce bigger and louder disputes among historians?

Moore was not known for being a poet. The popular story is that he wrote it on the spur of the moment:

Moore is thought to have composed the tale, now popularly known as “The Night Before Christmas,” on December 24, 1822, while traveling home from Greenwich Village, where he had bought a turkey for his family’s Christmas dinner.

Inspired by the plump, bearded Dutchman who took him by sleigh on his errand through the snow-covered streets of New York City, Moore penned A Visit from St. Nicholas for the amusement of his six children, with whom he shared the poem that evening. His vision of St. Nicholas draws upon Dutch-American and Norwegian traditions of a magical, gift-giving figure who appears at Christmas time, as well as the German legend of a visitor who enters homes through chimneys.

Again from the Library of Congress, we get information that suggests that Moore was a minor celebrity from a well-known family with historical ties that would make a good “connections” exercise in a high school history class, perhaps (”the link from Aaron Burr’s treason to Santa Claus?”): (read more, below the fold)

Clement Moore was born in 1779 into a prominent New York family. His father, Benjamin Moore, president of Columbia University, in his role as Episcopal Bishop of New York participated in the inauguration of George Washington as the nation’s first president. The elder Moore also administered last rites to Alexander Hamilton after he was mortally wounded in a tragic duel with Aaron Burr.

A graduate of Columbia, Clement Moore was a scholar of Hebrew and a professor of Oriental and Greek literature at the General Theological Seminary in Manhattan. [See comment from Pam Bumsted below for more on Moore.] He is said to have been embarrassed by the light-hearted verse, which was made public without his knowledge in December 1823. Moore did not publish it under his name until 1844.

Tonight, American children will be tucked in under their blankets and quilts and read this beloved poem as a last “sugarplum” before slipping into dreamland. Before they drift off, treat them to a message from Santa, recorded by the Thomas Edison Company in 1922.

Santa Claus Hides in Your Phonograph
By Arthur A. Penn, Performed by Harry E. Humphrey.
Edison, 1922.
Coupling date: 6/20/1922. Cutout date: 10/31/1929.
Inventing Entertainment: The Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies

Listen to this recording (RealAudio Format)

Listen to this recording (wav Format, 8,471 Kb)

But Henry Livingston was no less noble or historic. He hailed from the Livingstons of the Hudson Valley (one of whose farms is now occupied by Camp Rising Sun of the Louis August Jonas Foundation, a place where I spent four amazing summers teaching swimming and lifesaving). Livingston’s biography at the University of Toronto site offers another path for a connections exercise (”What connects the Declaration of Independence, the American invasion of Canada, the famous poem about a visit from St. Nick, and George W. Bush?”):

Henry Livingston Jr. was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, on Oct. 13, 1748. The Livingston family was one of the important colonial and revolutionary families of New York. The Poughkeepsie branch, descended from Gilbert, the youngest son of Robert Livingston, 1st Lord of Livingston Manor, was not as well off as the more well-known branches, descended from sons Robert and Philip. Two other descendants of Gilbert Livingston, President George Walker Herbert Bush and his son, President-Elect George W. Bush, though, have done their share to bring attention to this line. Henry’s brother, Rev. John Henry Livingston, entered Yale at the age of 12, and was able to unite the Dutch and American branches of the Dutch Reformed Church. At the time of his death, Rev. Livingston was president of Rutgers University. Henry’s father and brother Gilbert were involved in New York politics, and Henry’s granduncle was New York’s first Lt. Governor. But the law was the natural home for many of Henry’s family. His brother-in-law, Judge Jonas Platt, was an unsuccessful candidate for governor, as was his daughter Elizabeth’s husband, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Smith Thompson. Henry’s grandson, Sidney Breese, was Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court.

Known for his encyclopedic knowledge and his love of literature, Henry Livingston was a farmer, surveyor and Justice of the Peace, a judicial position dealing with financially limited criminal and civil cases. One of the first New Yorkers to enlist in the Revolutionary Army in 1775, Major Henry Livingston accompanied his cousin’s husband, General Montgomery, in his campaign up the Hudson River to invade Canada, leaving behind his new wife, Sarah Welles, and their week-old baby, on his Poughkeepsie property, Locust Grove. Baby Catherine was the subject of the first poem currently known by Major Livingston. Following this campaign, Livingston was involved in the War as a Commissioner of Sequestration, appropriating lands owned by British loyalists and selling them for the revolutionary cause. It was in the period following Sarah’s early death in 1783, that Major Livingston published most of his poems and prose, anonymously or under the pseudonym of R. Ten years after the death of Sarah, Henry married Jane Patterson, the daughter of a Dutchess County politician and sister of his next-door neighbor. Between both wives, Henry fathered twelve children. He published his good-natured, often occasional verse from 1787 in many journals, including Political Barometer, Poughkeepsie Journal, and New-York Magazine. His most famous poem, “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” was until 2000 thought to have been the work of Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863), who published it with his collected poems in 1844. Livingston died Feb. 29, 1828.

More on Henry Livingston and his authorship of the Christmas poem here.

Thomas Nast’s full realization of Santa Claus, “Merry Old Santa Claus,” January 1, 1881. Harper’s Weekly, from the Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum, via Bill Cassellman's site

Thomas Nast’s full realization of Santa Claus, “Merry Old Santa Claus,” January 1, 1881. Harper’s Weekly, from Wikimedia.

Our views of Santa Claus owe a great deal also to Coca-Cola advertising campaigns. Coca-Cola first noted Santa’s use of the drink in a 1922 campaign to suggest Coke was a year-round drink (100 years after the publication of Livingston’s poem). The company’s on-line archives gives details:

In 1930, artist Fred Mizen painted a department store Santa in a crowd drinking a bottle of Coke. The ad featured the world’s largest soda fountain, which was located in the department store of Famous Barr Co. in St. Louis, Mo. Mizen’s painting was used in print ads that Christmas season, appearing in The Saturday Evening Post in December 1930.

1936 Coca-Cola Santa cardboard store display

1936 Coca-Cola Santa cardboard store display

 

1942 original oil painting - 'They Remembered Me'

1942 original oil painting – ‘They Remembered Me’

Archie Lee, the D’Arcy Advertising Agency executive working with The Coca-Cola Company, wanted the next campaign to show a wholesome Santa as both realistic and symbolic. In 1931, The Coca-Cola Company commissioned Michigan-born illustrator Haddon Sundblom to develop advertising images using Santa Claus — showing Santa himself, not a man dressed as Santa, as Mizen’s work had portrayed him.

For inspiration, Sundblom turned to Clement Clark Moore’s 1822 poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (commonly called “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”). Moore’s description of St. Nick led to an image of Santa that was warm, friendly, pleasantly plump and human. For the next 33 years, Sundblom painted portraits of Santa that helped to create the modern image of Santa — an interpretation that today lives on in the minds of people of all ages, all over the world.

Santa Claus is a controversial figure. Debates still rage among parents about the wisdom of allowing the elf into the family’s home, and under what conditions. Theologians worry that the celebration of Christmas is diluted by the imagery. Other faiths worry that the secular, cultural impact of Santa Claus damages their own faiths (few other faiths have such a popular figure, and even atheists generally give gifts and participate in Christmas rituals such as putting up a decorated tree).

For over 100 years, Santa Claus has been a popular part of commercial, cultural and religious life in America. Has any other icon endured so long, or so well?

Coca-Cola’s film, “The Legend of Coca-Cola and Santa Claus”:

________________________
Below:
From the University of Toronto Library’s Representative Poetry Online

Major Henry Livingston, Jr. (1748-1828)

Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas

1 ‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house,

2 Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

3 The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

4 In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

5 The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

6 While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads,

7 And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,

8 Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap –

9 When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

10 I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

11 Away to the window I flew like a flash,

12 Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.

13 The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,

14 Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below;

15 When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

16 But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,

17 With a little old driver, so lively and quick,

18 I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

19 More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,

20 And he whistled, and shouted, and call’d them by name:

21 “Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer, and Vixen,

22 “On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Dunder and Blixem;

23 “To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!

24 “Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”

25 As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly,

26 When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;

27 So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,

28 With the sleigh full of Toys — and St. Nicholas too:

29 And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof

30 The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

31 As I drew in my head, and was turning around,

32 Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound:

33 He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,

34 And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;

35 A bundle of toys was flung on his back,

36 And he look’d like a peddler just opening his pack:

37 His eyes — how they twinkled! his dimples how merry,

38 His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;

39 His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow.

40 And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

41 The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

42 And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.

43 He had a broad face, and a little round belly

44 That shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly:

45 He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

46 And I laugh’d when I saw him in spite of myself;

47 A wink of his eye and a twist of his head

48 Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

49 He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

50 And fill’d all the stockings; then turn’d with a jerk,

51 And laying his finger aside of his nose

52 And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.

53 He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

54 And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle:

55 But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight –

56 Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Online text copyright © 2005, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto. Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries. Be sure to visit this site for more information on this poem, on Maj. Livingston, and on poetry in general.

More:

 

Advertisements

Rare/Alternative Christmas music 2018: Macy Gray’s call for social justice

December 19, 2018

Some encores from last year. Here’s one in a spasmodic series of posts on Christmas songs you probably haven’t heard a thousand times already, and may actually enjoy hearing. Got a song you’d like to suggest? Suggest it in comments.
Cover sleeve for Macy Gray's

Cover sleeve for Macy Gray’s “All I Want for Christmas.” Amazon image

This one speaks for itself, I think. From experience, I can tell you that playing this song can weed out the Trump supporters in your party attendance rather quickly.

Oddly, I think, it also brings out the dangerous elements of American society to complain about it, judging by comments at the site (go see; there are a lot more):

Grotesque comments at YouTube on Macy Gray's Christmas wishes.

Grotesque comments at YouTube on Macy Gray’s Christmas wishes.

Those thought zombies walk among us. Our cross to bear.

Gray didn’t include it on any album I’ve found.

More:

 


A brief history of Armed Forces Day, and why we fly the flag in 2018

May 19, 2018

New meaning to

New meaning to “flying the flag”: (Wikipedia caption) A pair of specially painted F-117 Nighthawks fly off from their last refueling by the Ohio National Guard’s 121st Air Refueling Wing. The F-117s were retired March 11 [2008] in a farewell ceremony at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Master Sgt. Kim Frey. This is just a great photo.

Armed Forces Day is the third Saturday in May. This year it falls on May 19.

The U.S. Flag Code designates Armed Forces Day as one day for all Americans to fly their flags, in honor of those men and women presently serving in any of the Armed Forces.

Activities to honor active duty and active reserve forces occur in hundreds of communities across the nation.  Check your local papers.

Remember to fly your flag.

A bit of history, as we’ve noted earlier:  After President Truman’s administration brought the management of the armed forces under the umbrella of one agency, the Department of Defense, Truman moved also to unite what had been a separate day of honor for each of the branches of the military, into one week capped by one day for all uniformed defense services.

On August 31, 1949, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson announced the creation of an Armed Forces Day to replace separate Army, Navy and Air Force Days. The single-day celebration stemmed from the unification of the Armed Forces under one department — the Department of Defense. Each of the military leagues and orders was asked to drop sponsorship of its specific service day in order to celebrate the newly announced Armed Forces Day. The Army, Navy and Air Force leagues adopted the newly formed day. The Marine Corps League declined to drop support for Marine Corps Day but supports Armed Forces Day, too.

In a speech announcing the formation of the day, President Truman “praised the work of the military services at home and across the seas” and said, “it is vital to the security of the nation and to the establishment of a desirable peace.” In an excerpt from the Presidential Proclamation of Feb. 27, 1950, Mr. Truman stated:

Armed Forces Day, Saturday, May 20, 1950, marks the first combined demonstration by America’s defense team of its progress, under the National Security Act, towards the goal of readiness for any eventuality. It is the first parade of preparedness by the unified forces of our land, sea, and air defense.

Celebrations like Armed Forces Day offer good opportunities to promote history. I suspect that the day’s coming always in the middle of May suppresses some of the teaching moment value, as teachers make a final push for end of course tests, finals, and in high schools, for graduation — and as many colleges are already out for the summer. Good materials are available that can be sprinkled throughout a course.

Photograph of President Truman and other digni...

President Truman and other dignitaries on the reviewing stand during an Armed Forces Day parade, (left… – NARA – 200222 (Photo credit: Wikipedia) (Is that Eisenhower on the left?) (Update: Yep! From Wikimedia: Left to right, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson, President Truman, Adm. William Leahy.

For example, this list of world-wide events at the first Armed Forces Day, in 1950, gives a good picture of four years into the Cold War, and would make a good warm-up exercise or even an entire lesson, or offer opportunities for projects:

The first Armed Forces Day came at a time of increased world tensions, political volatility and communist aggression. Some notable events that marked America’s first Armed Forces Week were as follows:

  • Bolivian police broke up “alleged” revolutionary communist-led general strike in LaPaz.
  • Two U. S. government buildings in Canton, China were taken over by the Chinese Communist Government. The buildings were U. S. property acquired prior to the Communist takeover.
  • The Burmese Army recaptured the city of Prome, a strategic communist-rebel stronghold.
  • Nicaraguans elect General Anastasio Somoza to a regular six-year term as president.
  • French and West German governments expected to talk shortly on the merger of the coal and steel industries of the two countries.
  • Communist China lifted the ban on daylight shipping along the Yangtze River due to the decline of Nationalist air activity.
  • Norway receives first US military aid in the form of two Dakota planes.
  • U. N. Secretary General Trygive Lie seeks West’s acceptance of Red China in the U. N.
  • Iran announced close range news broadcasts to the Soviet Union with $56,000 worth of Voice of America equipment.
  • Cuba celebrated the 48th anniversary of the establishment of its republic.
  • The Red Cross celebrated its 69th birthday.
  • Britain ended rationing of all foods except meats, butter, margarine, and cooking fat.
  • The U. S. Congress voted to extend the draft. “A Bill to extend registration and classification for the Draft until June 24, 1952 passed the House 216-11.”
  • The Allied Command announced it would “ease” the burden of occupation on Austria and would name civilian high commissioners to replace present military high commissioners.
  • Soviet authorities in Berlin withdrew travel passes of the U.S. and British military missions stationed at Potsdam in the Soviet zone of occupation.
  • The Soviets returned 23 East German industrial plants to East German authorities. The plants had been producing exclusively for the benefit of reparations to the USSR.
  • Twenty-eight Soviet vessels, consisting of tugs, trawlers, and supply ships remained in the English Channel as the Western Alliance prepared for air and naval maneuvers. Observers noted that many of them carried rollers at their sterns for trawling nets although no nets were visible.
  • Pravda denounced Armed Forces Day, calling it the militarization of the United States. “The hysterical speeches of the warmongers again show the timeliness of the appeal of the Permanent Committee of Peace Partisans that atomic weapons be forbidden.”
  • Western Powers renewed their promise to help Mid-Eastern states resist communism. They also announced an agreement to sell arms to Israel as well as to the Arabs.

Veterans Day honors veterans of wars, and those who served in the past; Memorial Day honors people who died defending the nation; Armed Forces Day honors those men and women serving today.  Service with two wars, in an “all volunteer” military, is a rough go, especially in times of federal budget cuts.  Say a good word about active duty military on Saturday, will you?

More:

This is an encore post.

Yes, this is an encore post, mostly. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.

Save


Fly your flag today for the 2018 holiday honoring Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 15, 2018

As on every federal holiday, citizens and residents of the U.S. should fly their U.S. flags today, on the holiday marking the birth of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rev. King, and the U.S. flag

Rev. King, and the U.S. flag. (No information on place or time of photo; please feel free to lend light and facts.)

Fly the U.S. flag today for the holiday for the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.  The holiday is celebrated on the third Monday in January.

King’s actual birthday is January 15. In 2018, the legal holiday and King’s actual birthday are the same day. It’s becoming common for Americans to fly their flags all weekend for a holiday on Friday or Monday.

Many Americans will celebrate with a day of service. Perhaps you will, too.

In 2017, days before the inauguration of a new president, remembering and honoring the life and struggles of Martin Luther King, Jr., and serving others in real and symbolic ways, is more important than ever.

More:

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. Credit: architecture.about.com, via Saporta Report

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. Credit: architecture.about.com, via Saporta Report

Save


Video flag in Times Square, reflected

January 1, 2018

Reuters photo, at the Baltimore Sun’s “Darkroom” blog.

Baltimore Sun caption: The U.S. flag is reflected in the window of a police car as a police man stands guard in Times Square ahead of New Year’s Eve celebrations in New York, December 31, 2013. Security has been stepped up in the area around where the celebrations will take place. (REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)

Baltimore Sun caption: The U.S. flag is reflected in the window of a police car as a police man stands guard in Times Square ahead of New Year’s Eve celebrations in New York, December 31, 2013. Security has been stepped up in the area around where the celebrations will take place. (REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)

Of course you’re flying your flag today, as the U.S. Flag Code recommends.

Is every holiday going to be taken over by flag-waving?


Fly Old Glory, to welcome the New Year

January 1, 2018

Reuters photo captured the Polar Bear Swim at Coney Island on January 1, 2016. New Years Day is one of the Flag Code designated days to fly the flag.

Reuters photo captured the Polar Bear Swim at Coney Island on January 1, 2016. New Years Day is one of the Flag Code designated days to fly the flag.

Fly your flag on January 1, one of the designated dates in the U.S. Flag Code. It’s a new year, a good time to fly the colors to get any new enterprise off to a good start.

Let’s hope for a better 2018 than the past two years have been.

Got a photo of your flag flying on January 1? Let us see it, in comments.

More:


Rare, Alternative and New Christmas Music: Sufjan Stevens, “Christmas in the Room”

December 22, 2017

Sufjan Stevens lists 100 of his Christmas song performances, 100 to 1; “Christmas in the Room” is #1.

Stevens’ catalog of Christmas is so large it’s a wonder any list can be made without some of his performances on it, and a major piece of work to run a radio station’s Christmas play list without several of Stevens’ recordings included (but somehow they pull that off).

Interesting artist, interesting work.

The Verge lists all 100 of the songs, and explains Stevens’ work on the seasonal stuff.

He’s the kind of guy who would record an album of songs for every state in the union. And yes, he did set out to do that (but slowed down after a few releases, and it is an uncomplete project).

Hey, confess: How much have you listened to Sufjan Stevens’s work?

You may benefit from Stevens’s other songs:

Sufjan Stevens released a 5 EP set of Christmas songs in 2006.

Sufjan Stevens released a 5 EP set of Christmas songs in 2006.


%d bloggers like this: