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Lincoln at Christmas

Thanks to ernieleaf who put me on to this website about the Presidents and their Christmas history. One Christmas bio on that website that I found fascinating was about Abraham Lincoln and his affinity for Christmas.

According to that webpage, during the Civil War. Harper’s Weekly illustrator Thomas Nast became well known for his Christmas drawings. Nast is given credit for depicting Santa Claus as we know him today. Lincoln had Nast draw the Christmas cards that he would send out like the one shown above. Nast had worked for Lincoln during the 1860 election campaign, creating campaign posters.

On Christmas morning of 1861, Lincoln held an important cabinet meeting, but later the Lincolns had dinner guests to the White House that evening. It was the only Christmas that included the entire Lincoln family. White House Christmases after this first one were sad occasions due to the death of their son, Willie, in February of the following year.

The Lincolns would regularly visit hospitals and donated their own money to purchase oranges and lemons for the troops to combat scurvy. One Christmas, Lincoln arranged to have Christmas gifts, such as reading material and sanitary clothes, sent to the soldiers under the signature, “From Tad Lincoln.” Hospitals in the Washington area were also the recipients of liquor (used for medicinal purposes) that the Lincolns had donated after having had received the bottles as gifts. It is not known whether White House Christmas cards were given out to those hospitalized soldiers along with the gifts. Christmas presents given amongst the Lincoln family members were probably purchased by the President and Tad at a toy store located near the White House, the Stuntz Toy Store. Wooden toys and toy soldiers were some of the items purchased. Referring to Tad, Lincoln remarked, “I want to give him all the toys I did not have and all the toys that I would have given the boy that went away” (referring to Willie).

According to a famous story, Tad Lincoln pleaded with his father to not have a certain turkey (named Jack) killed for Christmas dinner because Tad considered Jack his pet. The President wrote a formal pardon, saving the life of the turkey.

In 1863 Lincoln officially proclaimed that the last Thursday in November be considered a day of Thanksgiving. Prior to that, Thanksgiving was a regional holiday in New England and had been celebrated only sporadically. It was not until 1941 that Congress passed a resolution making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November – the time when it is celebrated today.

During late 1864, General William T. Sherman’s army of 62,000 began its famous “March to the Sea,” culminating in the capture of Savannah, Georgia on December 21. In a telegraphed letter to President Lincoln, General Sherman wrote: “I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah…” In a heartfelt reply, Lincoln wrote: “Many, many thanks for your Christmas gift – the capture of Savannah…Please make my grateful acknowledgements to your whole army – officers and men.”

In the years following Lincoln’s death, there were several Christmas-related illustrations done by Thomas Nast showing the Lincoln family, which proved to be very popular. One showed the family gathered around son, Tad, who was seated in a chair opening Christmas presents in 1861. Another was of Tad on Lincoln’s shoulders, along with Willie, peering into a toy store, seemingly mesmerized by all the Christmas goodies they saw through the window. Yet another showed Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln, circa 1860, hanging a wreath on their front door at their home in Springfield, Illinois. Nast's work would continue the association of Lincoln and Christmas.


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