Holidays on Display, currently on view at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, offers an image-rich online exhibit as well, detailing the way businesses learned to capitalize on one of the country's largest celebrations. Peer into the artistry of holiday window design as well. [more inside]
What to my wondering eyes should appear but the suggestion that "A Visit From St. Nicholas," the classic poem which has defined the American Santa Claus, from red suit and big belly to reindeer and chimney-delivery method, was written not by classics professor Clement Clarke Moore but by poet and military man Henry Livingston. Though some think the authorship controversy is sugarplum vision of Livingston's descendents, other scholars the claim: literary 'detective' Donald Foster agrees (though his sleuthing record is not unblemished). Leading historian of Christmas Stephen Nissenbaum, says that either way, St. Nick is the product of the same social world, that of the wealthy white elite in the New York of the early Republic. If the claim is true, then in the convoluted history of the manuscript we've gotten some reindeer names wrong.
You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, but do you know Stekkjarstaur, Giljagaur, Stufur, Thvorusleikir, Pottaskefill, Askasleikir, Hurdarskellir, Skyrgamur, Bjugnakraekir, Gluggagaegir, Gattathefur, Ketkrokur and Kertasnikir? They're the Jolasveinar, the impish "Yuletide Lads" of Iceland, and those are only some of their many names. During the thirteen days before Christmas, legend says that they do their best to monkeywrench the celebrations with hijinks like stealing sausages, milk, and candles, and peeping into windows and up skirts. The children of gruesome child-eating trolls Gryla and Leppaludi, who were known for snatching naughty children, the elves got their start in the 17th century. In the years since, their image has apparently mellowed, and now they leave children presents in their shoes and limit themselves to mild pranks.
A Nazi Christmas Since its most ancient days, the Christmas holiday has been continually reshaped to serve commercial, social, and political ends. These Nazi-era Christmas materials, including an Advent calendar and an essay on how to turn Christian holidays into National Socialist ones, come from the German Propaganda Archive of the Calvin College library. Of course, the Allies also enlisted Christmas in both pop culture and propaganda with cards, V-Mails, and posters.