The familiar depiction of the “jolly old elf,” Santa Claus, is largely the creation of 19th-century German-American illustrator Thomas Nast. This illustration, “Santa Claus in Camp,” is one of Nast’s earliest versions of a fat, bearded St. Nick.Nast was a successful political cartoonist, and “Santa Claus in Camp” is actually a powerful political image. In this 1863 magazine cover, Santa is delivering gifts to Union troops in a snowy winter camp. One soldier holds the precious gift of warm socks, which mimic the holiday tradition of stockings filled with presents. Santa himself demonstrates another gift, a puppet—a childish toy whose significance becomes clear on a closer viewing of the image.Read our questions in the Questions tab to delve further into “Santa Claus in Camp,” and better understand the time and place in which it was created.Instructional StrategiesOne of the most familiar ways to introduce students to primary sources is the method using the acronym APPARTS.• Author: Who created this resource? What is their point of view?• Place and Time: When was this resource produced? How might that influence its meaning?• Prior Knowledge: What social, cultural, or historical information would help students understand the context of this resource?• Audience: Who was the intended audience for this resource? Who is its audience today?• Reason: Why was this resource produced?• The Main Idea: What message was this resource trying to convey? How has it succeeded or failed?• Significance: What message does this resource offer today?Consult D2.10.His.6-8 in the C3 Framework for Social Studies State Standards: Detect possible limitations in the historical record based on evidence collected from different kinds of historical sources.• Discuss the intended audience for the illustration “Santa Claus in Camp,” looking for clues in the illustration and the publication in which it lived. The APPARTS strategy might be a useful tool.Questions in the "Questions" tab focus on historic aspects of the illustration and the ways in which they contribute to and limit a full inquiry into the historic record.
What clues in the illustration tell the viewer that Santa Claus is visiting a Union, not Confederate, camp?
What prior knowledge would a viewer need to decipher some of these clues?
Who do you think is the intended audience for this illustration? What can the illustration tell you about this audience?
Harold Holzer, a historian and chairman of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation, says that political cartoons of the Civil War had the “most impact and least staying power of any art form of the time.” How do you think “Santa Claus in Camp” had an impact on Civil War audiences? How has that impact been lost in the 140 years since it was published? What do you think is the most lasting impact of the illustration?
Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry delve Verb
to research or investigate thoroughly.
to illustrate or show.
political cartoon Noun
comic illustration or series of illustrations having to do with a political or historic event. Also called an editorial cartoon.
beliefs, customs, and cultural characteristics handed down from one generation to the next.
having to do with states supporting the United States (north) during the U.S. Civil War.