HistoryBuff.com December 2008 Newsletter
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The Man Who Created Santa
As We Know Him Today

Although he could not read or write, Thomas Nast is a perfect example of the importance of knowing our heritage and just how many legacies one person can leave behind. Thomas Nast, through his wood engravings, helped to shape customs not only in America but also throughout the world.

Thomas Nast is best known for his Christmas drawings. His first drawing appeared in Harper's Weekly for Christmas of 1862, marking the first appearance of Santa Claus as we know him today. Prior to this, Santa had passed through a series of stages beginning with a more religious-type figure.

The inspiration for how Nast's Santa should look came from Clement Moore's poem 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. Since Nast could not read, he had his wife read to him while he prepared his drawings and engravings. On one occasion, Mrs. Nast read Clement Moore's poem to Thomas. That was all it took for inspiration.

The next 24 years saw Nast produce 76 Christmas engravings that were signed and published. Nast used Moore's poem to put it all together in visual form - a sleigh, reindeer, jolly old elf, filling the stockings hung by the chimney, and so forth.

In addition, Nast used his own imagination to expand upon the theme. He was the first to establish that Santa's home was in the North Pole. In this way, Santa didn't belong to any one country - he became a citizen of the world. The concept of Santa having a workshop and elves to help him was also Nast's idea. Prior to his engravings, all children received gifts from Santa. Nast conceived the idea that bad children didn't get gifts from Santa. The custom of sending Santa a letter is also due to Thomas Nast. Although the custom of kissing under mistletoe was known in Europe prior to Nast's engravings, it was through his engravings in America that the custom caught on there.

Thomas Nast brought Christmas to a large audience through his engravings. The result of the impact that these drawings had on Americans is astronomical. In Europe, Christmas was observed for centuries on December 6. By the late 1800's when Nast's Santa Claus gained popularity, Christmas Day was legally established as December 25 in all states and territories in the United States. In addition, an extended school vacation during this period became a custom. (A brief pause while all students write a thank you note to the Nast estate.)

From this seed, Christmas began the move to commercial and economic interests. Stores began including drawings of Santa (though not necessarily done by Nast) in their ads and tying it in with Christmas sales and promotions. Soon to follow was the custom of sending Christmas cards. Without Nast and the Christmas drawings that he brought to the masses, it is hard to tell what Christmas and the customs that go with it would be like today.

Religious symbolism of The Twelve Days of Christmas
    1 True Love refers to God

    2 Turtle Doves refers to the Old and New Testaments

    3 French Hens refers to Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues

    4 Calling Birds refers to the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists

    5 Golden Rings refers to the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.

    6 Geese A-laying refers to the six days of creation

    7 Swans A-swimming refers to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments

    8 Maids A-milking refers to the eight beatitudes

    9 Ladies Dancing refers to the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit

    10 Lords A-leaping refers to the ten commandments

    11 Pipers Piping refers to the eleven faithful apostles

    12 Drummers Drumming refers to the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

The Day Kentucky Dissapeared

Many people think that the reason Kentucky Fried Chicken changed their name to the shorter KFC was an effort to remove the word "fried" from their business name. At the time of the change, the early 1990s, there was a large effort to make people aware that too many fried foods was not good for their health. This was NOT the reason for the change, however.

In 1990 the state of Kentucky had the word "Kentucky" trademarked in an effort to bring more revenue in to the state coffers. From that point on, businesses that previously used the word Kentucky in their business name would have to pay a license fee as well as royalties. Most businesses opted to remove the word Kentucky from their company name. Thus, since 1990 there was no longer a Kentucky Blue Grass, Kentucky Derby or Kentucky Fried Chicken as well as many others.

Kentucky Fried Chicken sued the state in an attempt to not have to pay the licensing and royalties. Their main argument was that they had used the word Kentucky in their company name for forty years and should, therefore, be "grandfathered" in. They lost their case. Thus, Kentucky Blue Grass was changed to Shenendoah Blue Grass. The Kentucky Derby changed their name to "The Run For The Roses," and Kentucky Fried Chicken changed their name to KFC. Neil Diamond's song Kentucky Woman and Elvis' Kentucky Rain were removed from radio playlists because the licensing fees and royalties they would have to pay the Commonwealth of Kentucky were more than they would have received in royalties from being played on the radio.

The state of Kentucky has since softened their trademark policies. Songs with the word Kentucky in their title CAN be played on the radio without a licensing fee or royalties. Soon KFC will be reverting back to Kentucky Fried Chicken along with updating their stores.

Tales From Beyond?

I was fifteen years old when John F. Kennedy was assassinated and my niece was almost two years old. For those that were not alive in 1963, regular television programming was pre-empted for live coverage of the events relating to the assassination and aftermath - Johnson being sworn in as the new president, the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald, and the funeral. For me, it was curious to note that my niece, despite being a toddler, knew something bad was happening. As our family was watching the events unfolding on TV, little Tina Marie was roaming the living room in an obvious state of despair. When Oswald was shot she started crying. The strange part was that she had watched several Western TV shows with us previously and when the "bad" guy got shot she had no reaction. Somehow she could distinguish between fiction and reality. Somehow, she understood the tragedy of the events that week.

Thirty years ago when I worked for a 500-bed hospital, one night I got a page to the orthopedic unit to set up traction on an elderly woman who had broken her hip. While I was getting the traction frame on her bed, the woman was rambling on about how she needed to go out and buy a new pair of shoes to put the ice cream in before Johnny got home from school.. After finishing putting the traction frame on her bed, I sought out a nurse to assist me. I had her hold the womanís leg up enough for me to wrap the leg with an Ace bandage so I could attach the traction. Meanwhile, the woman was trying to decide whether chocolate or strawberry ice cream would be better to put in the new shoes. I nodded towards the woman and said to the nurse assisting me "I hope I donít get that way when I am that old." Suddenly, the old woman rose up in bed and said in a nasty tone "I hope to hell you do" and then laid back down and continued rambling on about ice cream and shoes.

The year was 1959. Mom and dad had divorced the prior year. Mom was raising 4 children on her own. One Winter night she and three other friends had planned on going to a special meeting in a town 40 miles away. To get there, they had to drive through a canyon. The woman had already picked up the other two ladies making the trip and was now at our house to pick up Mom. Mom kissed us goodbye and gave us a hug then went out the door. A few minutes later, she came back in the house and told us she was not going after all. My mother told me later on in my adult life as to why she didnít go that night. As she was opening the car door, she heard her father tell her not to go so she changed her mind about going. Her father had died on Christmas day in1935! Since the car already had two people in the back seat, and Mom didnít drive, she would have sat in the front passenger seat. Going though the canyon, the car was traveling behind a flat-bed truck hauling long pipes of about 12 inches in diameter. The truck all of a sudden hit the brakes and the pipes slid off the truck. One of the pipes went right through the windshield on the passenger side. If Mom had been in that car and seat, she would have been beheaded!

For the last three years of my Momís life, her health was poor. She had two heart attacks a year apart. I spent a lot of time at her bedside in the cardiac unit. One time, when she was in the hospital for her second heart attack, for several days she remained in a semi-conscious state. One afternoon, all of a sudden she rose up in bed with a big smile on her face and said "Oh Iím so glad to see you. Iím ready" and started to get out of bed. A few seconds later she stated "Oh, OK" then laid back down to her semi-conscious state. A few days later, when she was finally fully conscious, I asked her about her sudden, brief change a few days earlier, and she told me that she had woken up and saw her mother, father, both brothers and sister at the foot of her bed. She thought they were there to take her "home." The problem was is that all of these relatives were long dead!

A year later my Mom broke her hip and had to have surgery to fix it. As it turned out, she was not recovering. After a month in the hospital, she was discharged under the care of HOSPICE at my home. For the next month she spent most of her time sleeping. One evening we were watching television together. All of a sudden she rose up in her bed with a big smile and said "OK," then clutched her chest and flopped back down on the bed. She died.

November Contest

CONTEST ONE QUESTION: What was the Treaty of Ghent?

ANSWER: This was the treaty that ended the War of 1812.

CONTEST TWO QUESTION: Only one wife of a president was committed to an insane asylum after her husbands' death. Who was she?

ANSWER: Mary Todd Lincoln

One-hundred-twenty people entered. Forty-one people had errors in their entry. The most common error was not selecting a prize. There were also entries where they selected a prize from the Contest One prize list, but answered the Contest Two question or answered the Contest One question but seltected a prize fom the Contest Two prize list. A few had the incorrect subject heading. One prize went claimed.
The November Contest Winners Were:
  • James Morrow - New Mexico
  • Jeljer Bouma - The Netherlands
  • Steve Morrison - Washington, DC
  • James Keenley - New York
  • Sandy Henning - Pennsylvania
  • Stuart Welter - Missouri
  • Mike Rowley - Iowa

This Issue's Questions:

To enter Contest One, answer the question: Which First Lady's middle name was Kermit?

To enter Contest Two, answer the question: Who was older: Martha or George Washington?


Contest Rules

  • Contest entry deadline is Wednesday, December 17, 2008. Later entries will be disqualified. Winners will be notified by email within 24 hours after the contest deadline. Winners' names and states will be published in the next issue of the HistoryBuff.com newsletter.

  • To enter Contest One or Contest Two, email your answer to curator at historybuff.com

  • To enter Contest One, use "Contest One Entry" for the emailed contest entry subject heading and answer the contest question one. Any other subject heading will be disqualified.

  • To enter Contest Two, use "Contest Two Entry" for the emailed contest entry subject heading and answer the contest two question. Any other subject heading will be disqualified.

  • Subscribers may enter both contests, but only win one prize.

  • If entering both contests, entries must be sent in separate emails.

  • Each entry MUST select ONE prize from the appropriate prize list.

  • If answering the Contest One question, select your prize from the Contest One prize list.

  • If answering the Contest Two question, select your prize from the Contest Two prize list.

  • From subscribers entering the contest, submitting the correct answer, correct subject heading, submission received by the deadline, as well as advising which ONE contest prize they want to win, TEN will be selected to win ONE of the contest prizes below.

  • Subscribers to this newsletter that won a prize in my trivia contests in the last 90 days are ineligible to win.
December Contest One Prize Selection
(Only one of each offered)

Hard Bound Book

The Wars Against Napoleon
Debunking the Myth of the Napoleonic Wars
By General Michel Franceschi & Ben Weider

The book can be ordered from Amazon.com.

For information on all books published by
Casemate Publishing visit their Web site.


Elvis Rare Moments With The King

Documentary About Elvis
From the 1950s to Las Vegas
No Music on DVD

Softbound Book

The Elementary Common Sense
of Thomas Paine
By Mark Wilensky
Includes elementary teacher lesson plans

The book can be ordered from Amazon.com.

For information on all books published by
Casemate Publishing visit their Web site.


Happy Feet

Animated Movie
With Voices of Elijah Wood, Robin Williams,
Nicloe Kidman, Hugh Jackman

Softbound Book

Those Damned Black Hats
The Iron Brigade in the Gettysburg Campaign
By Lance J. Herdegen

The book can be ordered from Amazon.com.

For information on all books published by
Casemate Publishing visit their Web site.


Classic TV

Episodes of:
Mr. and Mrs. North
Dangerous Assignment


December Contest Two Prize Selection
(Only one of each offered)
Original Historic Newspapers

The Atlas (Boston) historic newspaper from 1837

Original Manchester American & Messenger (New Hampshire) historic newspaper from 1853

Original The World historic newspaper from 1869

Original Coldwater Republican (Michigan) historic newspaper from 1876
That's it for this issue.

Rick Brown

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