The Holiday Season During War

How did Americans observe Christmas and the New Year during the Civil War? Illustrated newspapers, like Harper’s Weekly and Frank Leslie’s, published many illustrations throughout the conflict that showed readers how their fellow countrymen marked the holiday season, both in the army and on the homefront. Shown below are some examples.

Soldiers and civilians participate in holiday festivities held in the camp of the 44th New York Infantry in December 1861. (Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper)

A husband and wife separated by the war spend a somber Chrismas Eve in 1862. (Harper’s Weekly)

In this illustration from an issue of Harper’s Weekly in January 1863, Santa Claus distributes presents in a Union army camp. “Children, you mustn’t think that Santa Claus comes to you alone,” noted an accompanying article. (Harper’s Weekly)

Scenes of Christmas in 1863—at the front and at home. (Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper)

Children open gifts on Christmas morning in 1864. (Harper’s Weekly)

New Yorkers shop for chicken and beef at Washington Market in preparation for Chrismas celebrations in 1865. (Harper’s Weekly)

The war over, a family enjoys a peaceful Christmas Day in 1865. (Harper’s Weekly)

A “country” family celebrates New Year’s Eve in 1860—months before the outbreak of civil war. (Harper’s Weekly)

More scenes from New Year’s Eve 1860. (Harper’s Weekly)

Illustrator Thomas Nast created this depiction of the celebration of New Year’s Eve 1864 in the North (left) and South. (Harper’s Weekly)

 

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