Thursday, December 25, 2014

Mostly fat and jolly Santas from way back

For $7.99, I got a pile of Christmas cantatas from eBay.  The Santa artwork is awesome, all it from way before Coca-Cola allegedly invented the modern image of Santa.  If I have time (doubtful), I'll record some of the individual selections contained in these.  All were put out by the David C. Cook Publishing Company of Elgin, Illinois.  Dig the emergency surgery I did on the border of the last example ("Paint" and its color-editing feature to the rescue).

Fat-and-jolly-wise, I must admit that two of the Santas are amazingly svelte, especially the Santa-on-a-diet of 1912's "In the Christmas Glow" (third image down).  And just exactly what is he stepping out of?  A secret passage??  "Hey, Santa, we built this special entrance so you wouldn't have to fry your seat in the fire."  Great way to avoid a--no pun intended--Santa suit.

The final Santa, from 1914, is leaner than normal, too, but not overly.  Somehow, his weird get-up has me thinking of Vegas-era Elvis.  If Elvis had a long white weird and carried dolls.

Above: 1908

Above: 1903

Above: 1912

Above: 1895

Above: 1914


Friday, December 19, 2014

Mr. Neversmile--The Mayor of Honey Bee Hollow (1880)--in plain text




 'Twas the night before Christmas, and all thro' the town
Mr. Neversmile scowled as he tramped up and down;
For the mayor of Honey Bee Hollow was he,
And the sourest old man that you ever did see;
His nose was turned down, and his chin was turned up,
And his mouth was a crater as deep as a cup;
His eyes they were sunk, his coarse gray eyebrows under
So far that the fact he could see was a wonder;
His neck it was thin, and his "limbs" they were lank,
And the wickedest boys often dubbed him "Old Shank;"
For he hated the boys, and he scowled at their noise,
And scolded and badgered them with his cracked voice.
Now, Christmas was coining, and (Mr.) Neversmile said
That for gimcracks and things there should "never a red"
Be spent in the village of Honey Bee Hollow,
And the first child caught at it he was going to swallow
For the mayor of Honey Bee Hollow was he—
And he swelled with importance as big as could be.


Now the boys, when they heard this, began to grow pale,
And they ran to their homes with the pitiful tale,
And each mother's son, with the tears in his eyes,
Gave vent to his wrath between blubbers and sighs;
And every boy's mother her kerchief applied
To his nose and his eyes, and her own cheek beside.
But when each mad youngster went sobbing to bed,
With never a "Lay me" among them all said,
And each careful mother had tucked her kid close
In the woolliest blanket, except his red nose
Then the mothers arose in their just indignation,
And in with their tea took the whole situation;
And the upshot of all was, they voted to call
On the friend of the boys (and the friend of them
Good Santa Claus, who, since the days they were small,
Had visited, comforted, cared for them all.
They wrote a petition and signed all their names,
And sent it up chimney ahead of the flames.
Within it was stated, with very much care:
MR. CLAUS,—We're aware what your sentiments are,
And we know you believe in the dear Christmas eve,
And we want you to help us our task to achieve
Which the whole of it is, this new crotchet of his
(Mayor Neversmile's 't is) to explode with a fizz!


Now, when Santa Claus found this he laughed till he cried,
And he mounted his sledge to set out for a ride.
"I' was snowing and blowing, as cold as could be,
But never a fig or a raisin cared lie,
As he sat on a box full of candy and corn,
And mittens and muffs that had never been worn,
And lean'd 'gainst a barrel that stood tip behind,
With a " buffalo" round him to keep off the wind.
With his feet on a fender of rockets and things,
And his elbows ensconced in some cushions with springs,
Which cushions were held with a gearing beneath
Which had any boy seen 't would have taken his breath.


He rode and he rode, this good Mr. Claus,
And up at the top of the mountain he draws,
Preparing to slide down its side to the town
Of Honey Bee Hollow when night should come down.
In all other towns the glad bells were rung,
And the Christmas eve greetings began to be sung;
But Honey Bee Hollow this night was as still
As all the dead sleepers on Woodbury Hill;
And all the bright children heaved desolate sighs,
And glanced at their mothers with tears in their eyes;
And all the good mothers in hopefulness prayed
That dear Mr. Claus might not long be delayed;
For though they knew not of his infamous (?) plot,
They felt he would hasten ere morn to the spot;
And they ventured to say, in their carefulest way,
That something might happen yet, ere it was day.
This night before Christmas all over the town
Mr. Neversmile scowled as he tramped up and down;
But, anon, yes, he grinned as he thought of the fun
He had spoiled for the "pests" that the Hollow o'errun.


Nov up on the hill Mr. Claus, with his coach,
Impatiently bided his time to approach;
Then he touched his bright steeds, and they sprang thro' the air—
While a hundred red rockets lie lighted right there—
And down to the Hollow they sped like the wind,
While a trail like a comet's streamed, starlike, behind.


Now right by the road Mr. Neversmile stood,
And Santa swept by with a smile and a nod.
His path was ablaze with the brightest of things,
And music was swinging from bells and from rings;
The mothers let loose the wild children in glee,
And Honey Bee Hollow all turned out to see
Whoever it was that so reckless could be
As to beard the mad mayor, so "wrathy" was he.
Then Santa Claus tumbled his cargo about,
The children responded with laughter and shout;
Their aprons and pockets were full to the brim—
And who was the happiest, the children or he,
Is a problem unsolved to this very day;
For good Mr. Claus, he laughed till he cried.
Then the mouth of the barrel, he showed them, was wide,
And into it sour Mr. Neversmile went
Right deftly and quickly, without his consent,
And Santa Claus turned his gay steeds from the light,
While he said, " I must go—further business to-night--
But your crazy old mayor I '11 leave up a tree,
Where the owlets may eat him, for all you or me;
But I '11 venture to say, if he gets safely down,
He 'II be a changed person from this time and on,
And never again will he seek to destroy
The children's own birthright to Christmas and joy."

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The original Grinch? "Mr. Neversmile: The Mayor of Honey Bee Hollow" (1880)

From the Dec., 1880 issue of the children's magazine Golden Hours comes the remarkably Seuss-like narrative poem, "Mr. Neversmile--The Mayor of Honey Bee Hollow," all about a townsboy-hating, grinch-like mayor ("the sourest old man that you ever did see") who, on Christmas Eve, declares Christmas off-limits in his village.  (So much for advance notice!)  The town's distraught mothers contact Santa Claus himself, begging for his intervention, which he gleefully supplies that very evening, flooding Bee Hollow with noise, lightworks, and presents, and depositing the mayor up a tree.  Santa predicts that the mayor, should he find his way down, will be a reformed killjoy.

Besides the misanthropic Christmas hater bent on cancelling Christmas, other details uncannily parallel How the Grinch Stole Christmas--first and foremost, there's the Seuss-esque word play and cadences (e.g., "Then the mothers arose in their just indignation And in with their tea took the whole situation," and "His eyes they were sunk, his coarse gray eyebrows under So far that the fact he could see was a wonder").  Then we have Santa Claus landing on the top of a mountain, a la the Grinch, "Preparing to slide down its side to the town Of Honey Hollow when night should come down."  And there's the last minute rescue of the holiday and the change of heart on the part of the bad guy.  Says Santa of the up-a-tree Mayor Neversmile: "But I'll venture to say, if he gets safely down, He'll be a changed person from this time and on, And never again will he seek to destroy The children's own birthright to Christmas and joy."  No mention of whether or not Neversmile's heart grew several sizes that night.

It seems unlikely that Theodor Geisel was influenced by this poem, since it predates him by 24 years, but who knows?  What we do know is that Seuss-sounding children's verse has been around for a hundred-plus years.

Scanned by me from my copy, and cleaned up with NCH Photopad. I recommend using the Zoom function on your browser (rather than clicking on each image) for best text-reading results.  I find +175 ideal.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Another Santa assortment from the late 19th century

So, Coca-Cola came up with the fat, jolly, human-looking Santa in 1931, eh?  Riiiight.  In fact, here's our man in a Dec. 11, 1884 Youth's Companion ad, dropping Waterbury pocket watches onto the Earth from a considerable height.  (Imagine the size of the impact craters when those things hit!) Is it just me, or does Santa look like he's about to be gored by one of the rear reindeer?

Next, a more Father Christmas-looking Santa ("tall and wrinkled and gray"), from the children's book, Evening Entertainments (W.B. Conkey, 1899).  Very interesting text, no?  "Your mammas have told you, I have no doubt, Of what the Christmas is all about."  The Christmas??  Anyway, this poem, which connects the Nativity with Saint Nick, sounds like it was written for Cab Calloway:

Regarding Santa and the Nativity, please note that folklorist Jack Santino--a former editor of the Journal of American Folklore, former president of the American Folklore Society, and famed holiday expert--regards Santa Claus as "primarily a Christian tradition" (New Old Fashioned Ways: Holidays and Popular Culture, 1996).  In distinct contrast, I might add, to stand-up comic Tina Dupuy's assertion that Santa is secular as can be.  Now, that's a toughie.  Who do we believe?  The stand-up comic or the scholar?  Hmm.

While we're pondering that, here's a rendering of Santa, sleigh, and reindeer from the same collection.  To my eyes, this could easily pass for a Mike Peters cartoon:

No date on this next kiddie publication (below), but I'm guessing late 1800s/early 1900s,  As you can see, my copy's had a rough existence (not at my hands!), but anything this cheaply made and this old has beaten the odds by having survived at all, though collectors fussier than me may debate the "having survived" part.  Still, way too cool to consider tossing out:

We see, as ever, a 19th century Santa Claus instantly recognizable as same by modern eyes, but the really interesting thing is the amazing structure below the clouds, labeled "Santa Claus' Home."  Notice the Turkish look of the architecture?  Given St. Nicholas' place of origin, that makes perfect sense.  Here's a lovingly restored (with Paint) close-up:

Also interesting is the possessive apostrophe after "Santa Claus."  By modern standards, this is amazing on two counts: 1) it was used at all, and 2) it was used correctly--i.e. after, not before, the s.  You know we're looking at another era's work.  Today, this structure would be labeled "Santa Claus Home."   

Just inside the cover (after a filler page) is this cheaply printed but quite cool color illustration of our gift-bearing fireplace visitor, as fat and human-looking as he gets.  If he's not looking too jolly in this shot, maybe it's because he's deep in thought, wondering, at he looks at the slender chimney shaft, why he didn't bring Plastic Man along for back-up.

Same book--an illustration for the short narrative poem, "Santa Claus," which includes this gem:
Now, of toys he had no lack: 
They were carried on his back 
In a sack."

Santa leaves presents for everyone but Lazy Joe, whose stocking has a hole in it.  The hole being a violation of Santa/client policy, I guess.

And here's Kris--er, Kriss--Kringle, looking nothing like the Austrian and German Christkind, a.k.a. Christ Child, the gift-bearer often portrayed as a blonde female angel in get-up similar to that of the Good Witch in the 1939 Wizard of Oz.  (Follow that?  Me, neither.)  Anyway, this is a new depiction on me.  Google Images is no help--for "Kriss Kringle," it just gives me images from Miracle on 34th Street.  Why Kriss looks like a hobo here, I have no idea.  But he's certainly fat and jolly, and that's one big white beard:

With the exception of Kriss, every one of this post's Santas passes the Coca-Cola test.  (No, I'm not referring to the nail-left-in-the-glass-of-Coke experiment.)


Saturday, December 06, 2014

No, our modern image of Santa Claus did not originate with Coca-Cola in 1931

Snopes has an excellent piece debunking the ridiculous myth that Coca-Cola invented our modern image of Santa Claus, but I thought I'd add to it with an assortment of pre-Coca-Cola images that show a fat, jolly guy in a red suit long before Coke "invented" the tradition in its ads.  Not that mere facts have the power to put so much as a dent in the the hull of received horse hockey, but it's the principle of the thing.

Coca-Cola itself claims to have come up with the "image of a warm, friendly, pleasantly plump and human Santa."  Gee, too bad Little Corporal cartoonist "W.O.C." didn't think of that way back in 1869:


Or Julius Bien & Co., when they made this postcard way back in 1908:


And what, pray tell, is warm, friendly, or 4XL about this circa-1909 image?


Circa 1909

Or this one, from the same period (postmarked 1908)?

Circa 1908

Here's another one, also postmarked 1908, which loudly and clearly makes the case that a fat, friendly, and human-looking Santa originated with Coca-Cola in 1931,  Why, this skinny, clean-shaven lout looks like someone who would drop stink bombs down the chimney and film the resulting panic with his Smartphone, laughing all the while:

Circa 1908

Thanks goodness Coca-Cola came through with a plumper, kinder Santa in 1931.  The world was waiting for one.  Oh, by the way, and to its limited credit, Coke doesn't claim to have come up with the red suit, though I don't see why not.  If they're going to take credit for the fat, jolly, and human-looking aspects, why not toss in the suit color?

While we're on the subject of Santa postcards, here's a circa-1910s card which appears to combine Santa with the Norse god Thor (and vice versa).  Actually, as you may already know, Thor is regarded as one of the many Santa sources.  Red suit, white beard, chimney, etc.  The guy we know as Santa is actually any number of mythical figures.  All of them invented by Coke.


Santa Thor