Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 poem “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” redefined Christmas in America
Moore’s secular St. Nick weakened the holiday’s religious associations,
transforming it into a familial celebration that culminated in Santa Claus’ toy deliveries on Christmas Eve.
Nineteenth-century writers, journalists and artists decided that Santa Claus wasn’t a bachelor; he was married to Mrs. Claus.
Yet scholars tend to overlook the evolution of Santa Claus’ spouse
The poems and stories about Mrs. Claus that appeared in newspapers and popular periodicals spoke to women’s central role in the Christmas holiday.
The character also provided a canvas to explore contemporary debates about gender and politics.
Many literary depictions of Mrs. Claus paid tribute to the long hours, practical know-how and managerial skills that women’s holiday preparations required.
Mrs. Claus working alongside women across America as they cooked, cleaned and sewed.
[In some works,] Santa acknowledged his debt to Mrs. Claus: Without her hard work, he could “never get through” the Christmas season.
But on Christmas Eve, Mrs. Claus hit the North Pole’s glass ceiling.
in most Mrs. Claus literature, Santa traveled the world filling stockings while Mrs. Claus stayed home to await his return.
[E.g., a] tearful Mrs. Claus, ignored by Santa and his fans, is left to “cower alone” clasping the fingers she’d “worked to the bone” as Santa speeds off on his sleigh.
A few writers did, however, reward Mrs. Claus’ hard work with a sleigh ride of her own.
Georgia Grey’s 1874 short story “Mrs. Santa Claus’s Ride” allows Mrs. Claus to venture out alone,
but only after Santa – adamantly “not a woman’s rights man” – makes her promise to remain unseen.
To avoid questioning Santa’s authority or the belief that women belonged at home, the anonymous author of the 1880 tale “Mrs. Santa Claus’s Christmas-Eve” manufactures an emergency:
Santa has taken off without some dolls, so Mrs. Claus must saddle Blitzen and deliver them.
Charles S. Dickinson’s “Mrs. Santa Claus’s Adventure” offered a cautionary tale for disobedient wives.
Depicting Mrs. Claus’ advocacy for children as unrealistic and naive,
Dickinson echoes anti-suffrage arguments that emphasized the dangers awaiting women who abandoned the home.
[In another work,] Jealous of Santa’s fame, Mrs. St. Nick tries to deliver gifts in his place, but her plot to usurp Santa’s role as gift-giver fails when Santa tricks her into delivering a sack of worthless, embarrassing goods.
Goody Santa Claus on A Sleigh Ride creates an outspoken Mrs. Claus who loves her work and her husband – and is not about to be left behind when Santa makes his deliveries.
The Mrs. Clauses in literatures speak to every woman who has ever dreamed of a little rest, a little recognition and a seat in the sleigh.
Many people seem to believe that there was once a way to celebrate the birth of Christ in a more spiritual way.
Christmas trees and gift-giving on Dec. 24 in Germany did not spread to other European Christian cultures until the end of the 18th century
and did not come to North America until the 1830s.
Charles Haswell, an engineer and chronicler of everyday life in New York City, wrote in his “Reminiscences of an Octoganarian” that
in the 1830s German families living in Brooklyn dressed up Christmas trees with lights and ornaments.
Haswell was so curious about this novel custom that he went to Brooklyn in a very stormy and wet night just to see these Christmas trees through the windows of private homes.
Only in the late 1790s did the new custom of putting up a Christmas tree decorated with wax candles and ornaments and exchanging gifts emerge in Germany.
This new holiday practice was completely outside and independent of Christian religious practices.
The idea of putting wax candles on an evergreen was inspired by the pagan tradition of celebrating the winter solstice with bonfires on Dec. 21.
These bonfires on the darkest day of the year were intended to recall the sun and show her the way home.
The lit Christmas tree was essentially a domesticated version of these bonfires.
From the onset, all family members, including children, were expected to participate in the gift-giving.
Gifts were not brought by a mystical figure,
but openly exchanged among family members – symbolizing the new middle-class culture of egalitarianism.
American visitors to Germany in the first half of the 19th century realized the potential of this celebration for nation building.
Other American visitors to Germany – such as Charles Loring Brace, who witnessed a Christmas celebration in Berlin nearly 20 years later – considered it a specific German festival with the potential to pull people together.
In 1843 Harvard professor George Ticknor invited several prominent friends to join him in a Christmas celebration with a Christmas tree and gift-giving in his Boston home.
German-American families had brought the custom with them and put up Christmas trees before.
it was Ticknor’s social influence that secured the spread and social acceptance of the alien custom to put up a Christmas tree and to exchange gifts in American society.
The most significant steps toward integrating Christmas into popular American culture came in the context of the American Civil War.
In January 1863 Harper’s Weekly published on its front page the image of Santa Claus visiting the Union Army in 1862.
This image, which was produced by the German-American cartoonist Thomas Nast, represents the very first image of Santa Claus.
In the following years, Nast developed the image of Santa Claus into the jolly old man with a big belly and long white beard as we know it today.
In 1866 Nast produced “Santa Claus and His Works,” an elaborate drawing of Santa Claus’ tasks, from making gifts to recording children’s behavior.
This sketch also introduced the idea that Santa Claus traveled by a sledge drawn by reindeer.
Declaring Christmas a federal holiday and putting up the first Christmas tree in the White House marked the final steps in making Christmas an American holiday.