Spreading Christmas Cheer in 19th century America

Newspapers were the Facebook and Twitter of the past. They could act as sources of evil, propaganda, and manipulation or as conduits of hope, spreading joy across the nation.

When the Nazis took power, the Minister of Propaganda Josef Goebbels took over the radio, newspapers, and movies across Germany that infected millions with diabolical slander and hatred for everyone against them including Jews and Communists.

On the other hand, Christmas as we know it also spread throughout the United States through newspapers. The letters and art that became the source of – some would say commercialized – Christmas came through the writings and cartoons of its 19th century makers.

The epic Christmas poem ‘T’was the Night Before Christmas’ was written by Dr. Clement Moore for his children in 1822 and first published by The Troy Sentinel on Dec. 23, 1823.

It is a classic interpretation of Christmas sans Jesus.

“T’was the night before Christmas when all thro’ the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The Stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads”

This poem quickly took root and sprouted across America.

The very image of St. Nicholas, aka Santa Claus, was invented by 19th century political cartoonist Thomas Nast. With his jolly red suit, white flowing beard, and big black winter boots, Santa is the picture of Christmas to many children in America.

And “A Christmas Carol”, a sensation from the start in Britain, reached many U.S. readers in 1844 asAmerican newspapers offered up serialized versions of the just-published novel from England written by Charles Dickens. 

“Bah, humbug” Ebenezer Scrooge says of Christmas, a mantra for Scroogeness ever since.

Lastly, if it wasn’t for an editorial written as a reply by Francis Church, Virginia would have had her question unanswered – Is there a Santa Claus?

In 1897, New York City raised Virginia O’Hanlon, age 8, had an argument with some of her schoolmates about Santa Claus. Virginia felt sure there was a Santa but her friends said there was not. Feeling desperate to prove Santa’s existence, she wrote a letter to the editor of The Sun.

Editorial writer Church, a man with a big heart and a fine appreciation of poetry, sat down and wrote an answer to Virginia, and it was printed in the paper next morning, September 21, 1897.  

“Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. 
He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.”

Ever since, Church’s words get reprinted across the world for hopeful children at Christmas time. Picture children without a glimpse of Santa Claus delivering gifts on Christmas Eve. It would be a sad world indeed. Without newspapers popularizing Santa, we would be left out in the cold.

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