Sleigh Bells and Factory Elves: The Spectacular Economy of Santa Claus by Josh Poklad (2015 Award for Best Graduate Conference Paper)

Victorians Institute Journal Digital Annex

Sleigh Bells and Factory Elves: The Spectacular Economy of Santa Claus
Josh Poklad, Leeds Trinity University
Strangely, considering his significance to the Victorian Christmas and Victorian society in general, the figure and legend of Father Christmas has been largely overlooked in Victorian studies. Indeed, in Neil Armstrong’s otherwise comprehensive review of the nineteenth-century English Christmas, the figure is afforded but a few pages, subsumed in a wider analysis of festive print iconography.@ Likewise, in her essay on the establishment of the Victorian Christmas and its associated customs, Christine Lalumia ignores the topic entirely.@ John Pimlott does provide a brief history of the character in his The Englishman’s Christmas: A Social History (1978), although because his text is aimed at a popular rather than academic audience, this analysis is fleeting and uncritical.@ This paper seeks to amend this imbalance by tracing the development of the character during the nineteenth century.
Analogous to a consumerist transformation of the Christmas festival itself, Father Christmas evolved in the late Victorian period from his early nineteenth-century form – a non-gift-giving character representative of social inclusion, charity, and festive cheer – into the consumer deity that is more familiar today. I argue that in his revised incarnation as a magical deliverer of Christmas gifts, Father Christmas and his legend functioned to detach commodities from their objective social origins, and thus served as a device by which the process of commodity fetishism could be operated. Karl Marx asserted that in capitalist societies, commodities become alienated from their producers through the processes of mass production and exchange. Subsequently, “a definite social relation between men assumes, in men’s eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things.”@ Seen no longer as products of a tangible mode of production, the true nature of commodities become masked, and thus, to the consumer, they appear as fantastic objects ripe for fetishization – as the signs and symbols of a new commodity world.
Yet, as will become evident, it was more than the commodity that became fetishized in the Father Christmas legend. The legend also made a fetish out of commodity production and the labor and laborers that underpinned contemporaneous capitalist society. Indeed, following his transition, Father Christmas and his legend represented all of the fundamental components of the economy in magical fashion: his mythical “workshop” stood-in for the factory, its attendant elf-workers for the working class, whilst his magical methods of gift delivery represented a symbolic form of distribution and exchange. Thus in the new legend, commodities appeared to emerge from a mythical fairyland instead of industrial reality. This aspect of the Father Christmas legend assisted in the validation of middle class festive consumption amidst concerns regarding the condition of industry and capitalist society as a whole. By displacing production into a mythical realm, consumers were able to engage in hedonistic festive consumption unsullied by anxieties surrounding the true origins of the products they bought. This situation thus calls for an extension of Marx’s theory to acknowledge the capacity of capitalist society to exhibit “production fetishism”
Following its criminalization by Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan government in the seventeenth century,@ Christmas sank into relative obscurity. The festival continued to languish in terms of significance and popularity for the next century or so, until the middle classes of the early Victorian period saw fit to revive it. The value system of Christmas as it was revived, as Lalumia and Armstrong note, was formulated by the early Victorian middle class as a response to the prolonged economic depression of, and subsequent heightening of social tensions during, the “hungry” 1840s.@ In order to present the new festival as an antidote to these problems, the popularizers of the revival (the most notable of whom were Thomas Hervey@ and Charles Dickens) evoked a paternalistic festive ideology plucked from the mists of an idealized medieval and early modern past, in which the rich cared and provided for the poor at Christmas time, and the social order cast off their differences to come together in festive cheer. Notions of festive fun, feasting and abundance were also heavily emphasized in the restored festival in order to counter the realities of scarcity which plagued the 1840s, and as a reaction to the general spirit of utilitarianism that pervaded the age. Heavily emphasized too was the family, in the sense of both the idealized nuclear unit, and extended social and familial kinship. Perhaps the most significant cultural manifestation of the early Victorian festive ideology can be found in the Christmas literature of Charles Dickens (1812 - 1870), notably A Christmas Carol (1843). Here, after being haunted by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come, the miserly utilitarian Scrooge is transformed into a charitable individual endowed with all the attributes central to the mid-century festive ideal.@ The post-transformation Scrooge uses his financial prosperity to ensure the family of his impoverished clerk, Bob Cratchit, is able to enjoy the festive season without economic hindrance and have their share in festive “abundance” before celebrating with his own family, thus demonstrating the centrality of charity, noblesse oblige, family, and socially-cohesive festive cheer in the new festive ideology.@ As the reformed Scrooge’s donation of a “prize turkey” to the penurious family of his clerk demonstrates, gift-giving and consumption were certainly a part of the mid-century festive ideology, but not as central as they would become later in the period. Scrooge’s choice of present also indicates that celebratory consumption involved far more emphasis on food than it did on manufactured commodities.@
The revival of the festival also featured a simultaneous revival of its mascot, Father Christmas. The Father Christmas associated with the early Victorian Christmas was heavily correlated to the Dickensian festive ideology. This figure was predicated on characters resonant of the idealized medieval festivities the Victorians were keen to reclaim, including “Old Christmas”, a personification of festive cheer, feasting, drinking, and sports, “Old Father Time”, and the “Lord of Misrule”, a peasant thought to have presided over mass-revels in the medieval period. Although moderated to fit with middle class values and perspectives on the social order,@ the reincarnated character retained the central attributes of these carnivalesque antecedents: he was depicted as a member of the lower classes, and represented festive feasting, sports, and revelry in order to consolidate the Victorians’ vision of festive social cohesion. An image of an “old” sketch of Father Christmas, reprinted in The English Illustrated Magazine in 1905 and most likely of mid-century origin, shows a representative example of the character in this initial Victorian form.@ Father Christmas is here depicted riding a goat and wearing a disheveled and mischievous appearance, indicative of a limited social status, and resonant with his carnivalesque origins. He also carries a “wassail bowl” filled with alcohol, signifying his primary role as king of the Christmas party. The resurrected Father Christmas acted as a mythical focal point of festive charity and social cohesion – as a member of the impoverished classes to whom charity should be shown during his annual visits. Therefore, far from being represented as a magical deliverer of Christmas gifts, this “original” Father Christmas was a recipient of Christmas fare – “a great receiver of goods”, according to the author of an article in the Illustrated London News (to be referred to henceforth as the ILN).@ In return, Father Christmas was then obliged to spread his unique and entirely immaterial gift of festive cheer, to open his “wonder wallet”, as posited by a writer for the Trewman Exeter Post, and distribute the “songs, tales, and jests”@ contained within.
These attributes would shortly undergo profound change. Indeed, by the 1880s, this semi-carnivalesque Father Christmas had been entirely supplanted. A representative image of Father Christmas from the closing decades of the nineteenth century, featured in the ILN in 1901, vividly demonstrates the nature of his transformation.@ Gone are his jovially inebriated features, replaced by a more respectable – more middle class – visage, whilst his ragged clothing is upgraded to a plush and fashionable robe. Significantly, Father Christmas is here no longer depicted as a recipient of Christmas fare, but instead as a magical bearer of commodity-gifts, indicated by his possession of a sizeable rucksack bursting with presents. Striding magnificently into the heart of a luxurious bourgeois party, Father Christmas has foregone his occupation as a cheerful reveler of obscure social extraction, and become instead a gleaming beacon of middle-class Christmas consumption. This transformation was influenced by developments across the Atlantic, where the writings of Clement Clarke Moore (1779 - 1863),@ as well as the illustrations of Thomas Nast (1840 - 1902) for Harper’s Weekly,@ had helped to sculpt the European legend of St Nicholas (or more specifically his Dutch incarnation, Sinter Klaas) into the American figure of Santa Claus.@ The attributes assigned to Santa Claus by Moore and Nast - his role as deliver of gifts, his reindeer and sleigh, his entry down the chimney, and his legion of elfish “assistants”, were quickly transposed onto the legend of the English Father Christmas, most likely as a result of a multitude of Santa stories that appeared in the English press during the 1860s and 1870s.@ It would thus be tempting to see Father Christmas’s transformation as a simple case of importation, as both Armstrong and Pimlott are content to do. Yet the situation was undoubtedly more complex than this. The speed with which the Santa’s attributes were superimposed on to Father Christmas, and the similarly rapid and almost total disappearance of the “old” Father Christmas from view, suggest that the character was more than just a piece of popularized “Americana”. So too, does the fact that, as will be seen, the Victorians frequently elaborated on the legend and deployed it in contexts specific to their own society. It is useful here to consider Claude Levi-Strauss’s anthropological study of the popularization of the modern Father Christmas in post-World War II France. Here, Levi-Strauss refers to Alfred Kroeber’s theory of stimulus diffusion in order to reveal the functions of the myth in its new cultural milieu. Kroeber’s theory states that imported practices are not “assimilated”, but instead act as catalysts that stimulate extant practices lying in nascent states.@ A proper understanding of the establishment of the modern Father Christmas in Victorian Britain thus requires a close consideration of the unique cultural and social contexts in which his legend was deployed.
Fundamental among the historical factors driving Father Christmas’s transformation was the development of a modern consumer society in the late Victorian period, and the subsequent consumerization of the Christmas festival. The growth of consumerism was stimulated by increased efficiency in industrial commodity production,@ a demographic and material expansion of the consuming classes,@ a general drift away from the frugal ideologies of utilitarianism,@ and the rise of the newspaper and with it modern forms of advertising.@ These processes gathered considerable pace in Britain from the mid-1850s onwards, and came to a crescendo in the latter decades of the century with the appearance of the first department stores. In tandem, the original Victorian festive ideology began to be infiltrated by modern consumerist imperatives, giving rise to a festive ideology akin to the one that remains with us today. This is discernible from the increasingly extensive coverage given by the late-Victorian press to consumptive practices. Popular newspapers and periodicals such as the ILN and Hearth and Home became littered over the festive season with articles reviewing Christmas gifts and cards, and offering extensive instruction on the deciphering of these new materials of festive consumption. By the 1870s, the ILN was publishing Christmas-themed articles and advertisements as early as September.@ Christmas had become the central event in the calendar of an increasingly consumerist society.
Evidently, Father Christmas’s transformation enabled the character to keep pace with the evolution in Christmas ideals. By shedding the carnivalesque attributes that complemented the Dickensian festive ideal, and gaining the status of god of the Christmas gift, the legend was reconfigured to match the materialist imperatives of the modern Christmas. Yet the creation of a consumer society and a consumer Christmas cannot alone explain the figure’s conversion, or the cultural and social functions of the legend in its revised state. Instead, the consumer Christmas must be considered in its context: in its relationship to late-Victorian society as a whole. Indeed, Father Christmas’s evolution is far better interpreted when it is kept in mind that, whilst consumerism was expanding exponentially, the late nineteenth century society in which it grew was still riven by divisions between rich and poor, and industry, especially its mechanical aspect, was not always perceived in a positive fashion.
Consumer society and industrial reality lay in tension with one another during the late-nineteenth century, a tension which was evidently at the forefront of the minds of many of the consuming classes. Questions regarding the condition of the working class remained prominent: social journalism such as Charles Booth’s Life and Labour of the London Poor (1886-1903) and Jack London’s The People of The Abyss (1902) once more confronted the middle class with the grim realities of urban industrial life from which the refuge of suburban living had spatially shielded them. These questions were given added significance with the return of heightened class tensions during the 1880s and 1890s following a period of post-Chartist calm. This era saw the birth of organized socialism@ and the return of radical political class action, culminating in a spate of strikes during the late 80s and early 90s, @ the most significant of which, the Great Dock Strike, caused ripples of apprehension through the consumer society. Newspapers certainly framed the strike in terms of is potential to devastate the consumer way of life. The Morning Post, for instance, expressed horror at the prospect that, should the strike not cease, “the entire position of London, as the chief emporium of the world, may be permanently overthrown”.@
A fear of the negative effects of industrial mechanization also plagued the late-century consumer psyche. The template for this anxiety had been set earlier in the period, manifest in the work of two of the most influential Victorian thinkers, Thomas Carlyle (1795 - 1881) and Charles Dickens, both of whom argued vehemently against the pervasion of society by mechanistic ways of thinking and living. Carlyle deplored the all-encompassing mechanical dimensions of what he termed “the Age of Machinery”,@ arguing that the machine had infiltrated the Victorian soul and psyche, stymying passion, “dynamism”, imagination and creativity, and reducing everything to automation.@ These sentiments were re-emphasized in Dickens’ portrayal of Thomas Gradgrind – an emotionally-challenged mechanical “man of facts and calculations”@ – and his utilitarianism in Hard Times (1854). In the latter half of the century this line of argument was furthered by William Morris (1834 - 1896), who, in the mode of Marx, believed that mechanized, industrial modes of production caused workers to become alienated from their labour and thus from themselves. Morris sought to resolve this issue through “the medieval ideal of craftsmanship”,@ which, with its artful and non-mechanical processes, would, in his view, address the problem of alienated labour by returning the craft of labour back into the workers’ hands.@ This ideology became the cornerstone of the influential Arts and Crafts Movement, of which Morris was at the forefront. Towards the very end of the century, the impact of Darwinism on popular and learned discourse brought about a new wave of apprehension towards the machine and its application. Perceiving that, if life was capable of evolution, it must also be capable of degeneration, the Victorians began to fear that an over-reliance on machines might cause the human race to regress, both physically and morally. Such a sentiment is reflected in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (1895), in which the protagonist is hurled into a distant future where machine technology has caused the human race to degenerate into the physically and intellectually meek upper-caste Eloi and the brutish lower-caste Morlocks.@ Twinned with this notion was the idea that, if life was capable of evolution, so might the machine, which lead to fears of the development of machine consciousness and domination, as reflected in Samuel Butler’s Erewhon (1872), which depicts an abstracted Victorian-esque civilization which has come into conflict with the machine.@
A tension thus developed between the materialistic imperatives of the late-century consumer society and consumer anxieties with regard to the condition and direction of industry, mechanization, and the working class. The transformation of the Father Christmas legend from carnivalesque character to god of commodities can be read in the context of Victorian efforts to counter and contain these tensions. One of the most striking characteristics of the post-transformation Father Christmas/Santa legend@ was that its mythical narrative articulated a complete magical economy, representative of all the fundamental aspects of the real one. This narrative displaced industrial production into a fairy-tale realm, enabling problematic aspects of, and anxieties surrounding, industry and capitalism to be displaced and addressed. By relocating the economy into a fantasy world, middle class consumers were able to indulge in hedonistic festive consumption without engaging anxieties regarding industry, mechanization, and the working classes.
Father Christmas’s workshop was frequently deployed as a device by which to render factory production in a sanitized and palatable form. There were two principal modes of representing Santa’s workshop in the Victorian era, each of which dealt with anxieties pertaining to industry in slightly different ways. The first of these modes – that used by Nast in his initial drawings, involved the representation of the workshop as a base for artisanal production. Like Nast, the Victorians frequently produced images, often on the faces of Christmas cards, of Santa working in his shop alone, deploying non-mechanical tools such as hammers, planes, saws, and paintbrushes to handcraft Christmas gifts. This mode of representing Father Christmas’s mode of production mirrored the solutions posited by William Morris on the problem of alienated labour. By situating Santa’s production in the context of Morris’s Arts and Crafts ideal, the Victorians were able to recast Christmas gift production as an artisanal, rather than industrial affair, and thus free Christmas gifts from any association with machine-driven production and its negative connotations.
The use of elves and fairies as Santa’s “helpers” – his workers – in depictions of Santa’s mythical economy facilitated alternate mythical economies to be depicted. These were narratives which, instead of casting production in the framework of the medieval artisanal ideal, mythicized contemporary capitalism. In contrast to the Arts and Crafts-style cottage workshop, these images presented a more palatable form of industry not by humanizing production, but by rendering the industrial workforce non-human. This mode of representation is exemplified in a sketch that appeared in J. Walker McSpadden’s The Land of Nod (1909), and which was reprinted in The Bookman a year later.@ Here, a group of elves, garbed in worker-like aprons, busy themselves constructing an automobile. Although productive tools remain quaint and non-mechanized, a factory rather than cottage environment is depicted, with a division of labor evident amongst its workers. The negative perceptions of industrial and societal mechanization are displaced in this image and in others like it by the substitution of human labor for the labor of mythical creatures. Industrial labor is not carried out by human agents integrated into a mechanical process, but instead by mythical non-human creatures. This method of presentation not only precludes the depiction of humanity as an appendage of machinery, but also renders the mechanical processes on display as somewhat magical and marvelous in themselves.
Santa’s elves and fairies were also deployed to deflect and mythicize problems regarding the condition of the working class, and to ease fears of revolt or revolution, as is evident in an illustration from the ILN in 1895, entitled “Santa Claus the Toyman”.@ Driving his present-laden sled through a typical wintry festive landscape, Santa is surrounded by an ice-skating elfish entourage, led by a wand-wielding fairy. Santa’s magical workers are here depicted in joyous mood, laughing and dancing alongside Santa’s driving sleigh. Santa, the center of the image and master of the elves’ productive powers, is depicted as a benevolent taskmaster – a Titus Salt of fairyland – his cheerful smile indicating he is happy to allow his workers free rein. Significantly, his elves are depicted reveling in the produce of their industry: they pull Christmas crackers, carry balloons, and play with toys. Here, Santa’s economy is depicted providing material benefit for producers and consumers, a notion that was fundamental to pro-capitalist ideologies pertaining to the amelioration of the working class.@ This clearly capitalistically-structured socio-economy is endowed with all the qualities which the late-century middle class perceived to be lacking from their real one: it is dense in its imaginative qualities, the opposite of mechanical, whilst its attendant workers are happy, non-rebellious, and free to engage in the products of their labour.
The primary function of the Christmas elf was as a symbolic replacement for the working class. By imagining the producers of Santa’s economy in magical form, anxiety regarding the plight of the workers and fear of their organized revolt was deflected from interfering with festive consumption. Nicola Bown has charted the occurrence of a similar phenomenon in her study on the Victorians and their relationship with fairies and fairyland. Bown asserts that “fairyland” essentially acted as an “Arcadia for the industrial age”, with fairies themselves often represented as “dream images of the factory workers whose condition worried so many Victorians”.@ Bown notes how this process of magical projection featured as one of the Victorians’ key responses to the fear and anxiety felt with regard to industrialization and the quandaries of the working class. By projecting “the distress elsewhere”, she argues, the Victorians were able to reimagine their industrial world “in a good form.”@
Another significant aspect of Santa’s economy was that his distribution was ostensibly uniform - he was presented as a gift-giver whose services would be rendered in equal measure to poor and rich alike. Through this narrative, misgivings about the inequalities of capitalist society could be dismissed, and the merits of bourgeois philanthropy foregrounded as a compensation for social ills. The equivalence between Santa and the contemporary idealized, benevolent industrialist is made explicit in a history of Father Christmas that featured in the Glasgow Herald in 1879, which frames the character’s most contemporary developments in terms of bourgeois economic ascendancy, and imbues him with philanthropic ideals, describing how the character “became very rich, but…gave all his money to the poorest and most deserving of his fellow citizens.”@ Unlike his mid-century predecessor, whose social role was one of moderate subversion, this socially inclusive element of the late century Santa Claus merely served to reinforce an ideology of harmonious but rigidly hierarchical class relationships. As philanthropist, Santa validated the economic disparities between rich and poor inherent to the capitalist system by performing a role that was the bourgeois equivalent of noblesse oblige. The dichotomy between the social roles of the “old” and “new” Father Christmases is starkly illuminated by a humorous sketch featured in Fun in 1895, entitled “Father Christmas with the Classes and the Masses”.@ Here, two images of Father Christmas are posited, the first, bearing the subtitle “Father Christmas the Plutocrat”, depicts him sitting down sipping wine in a dapper suit at a bourgeois social function, whilst the second, “Father Christmas the Democrat”, portrays him in his traditional early-Victorian guise hurling bombs on behalf of the proletariat.
The myth of Father Christmas the philanthropist became actualized in the late-century as individuals and organizations adopted the practice of using the character as a conduit to frame charitable endeavors. Indeed, countless festive articles appear in late-century publications detailing philanthropic festive endeavors contextualized by the Santa legend. For instance, an annual “Santa Claus Feast” was held at Cardiff’s Park Hall between 1894 and the end of the century, to which poor children were invited, treated to a lavish meal, and handed small gifts.@ Similarly, a “Father Christmas” would typically make annual visits to the wards of children’s infirmaries in the larger British cities. An article from the Birmingham Daily Post in 1894 details one such visit, in which an “abundance of appropriate gifts” donated by philanthropic individuals were handed out to the patients by a man in Santa costume.@ Wealthy individuals and celebrities would also use the Santa legend as a conduit for festive philanthropy. For instance, Henry Labouchère (1831-1912), owner of Truth Magazine and Liberal Member of Parliament, dressed as Santa Claus and distributed toys to children in the workhouses and hospitals of London during the 1880s.@ Using Father Christmas as the “face” of charitable endeavors was beneficial for the capitalist classes in two ways. Firstly, it bolstered the paternalistic practices and ideologies that some historians argue helped prop-up the capitalist system and prevent working class rebellion,@ and secondly, it contributed toward the propagation, and indeed quasi-fulfilment, of Santa’s economic myth amongst the working classes.
Yet for vast numbers of the working and lower classes, the richness of Santa’s economy was simply never experienced. Indeed, inevitably dominant to Santa’s social role was his service to the consuming middle and upper classes. This situation is clearly manifest in an ILN sketch from 1909 depicting a scene from a real-life Christmas celebration at the Savoy Hotel in London. Entitled “The Lucky Thousand: Santa Claus and his more Favoured Followers”, the image shows a costumed Santa handing out gifts to the children in attendance.@ The title tells all here: the dictates of social reality ensured that, however indiscriminate the ideal of Santa was, he ultimately appeared to cater more comprehensively for his wealthier, more “favoured followers”. The discrepancy between the philanthropic Santa ideal and reality was clearly one which played upon the consciences of more socially-aware members of the Victorian public. The young protagonist of a festive story in an edition of the Hampshire Telegraph from 1894, for instance, upon witnessing an unequal distribution of presents among rich and poor children, observes Santa’s apparent “partiality”, and suggests that he is “in the employ of the rich folks”.@ Similarly, a Christmas story featured in the Leeds Mercury, centered on a miner’s widow and her daughter, features a lament with regard to the fact that “Santa Claus never notices real poor people”,@ whilst in Anna Bartlett Warner and Susan Warner’s Christmas story Carl Krinken: His Christmas Stocking (1853), the narrator informs us that “Santa Claus never troubles his head” about the travails of the poor, for he is “too full of business, and wrapped up in buffalo skins besides” (the critique of Santa the benevolent capitalist is particularly explicit here).@
The notion that Father Christmas, in addition to not providing for the working classes, in reality placed heavy demands on them at Christmas time was also clearly a prominent one, as is evident in the following passage from an article in the Penny Illustrated Paper:
Although we seem scarcely to have left the torrid days behind us, Father Christmas has already loomed in sight. Indeed, to many great business houses he loomed in sight long ago, setting many hands and brains and machines working at express speed to meet his annual demands.@
Here, the author highlights that Father Christmas’s industrial “demands” are upon real hands and brains, not elfish ones, and that the mode of production he represents is in fact not magical, but monotonously mechanical. There are scores of other such examples of critiques of Santa, demonstrating that the fetishization of capitalist social relations through the Santa myth was both recognized and challenged.
Santa’s mythical economy was used as a device by which Christmas consumerism could be disconnected from socio-economic reality and thus disentangled from the anxieties prevalent in the late century consumer psyche. By repositioning the origins of their commodity gifts in a fantastical fairyland, bestowed upon them by a commodity god, Victorian consumers could indulge in festive consumption with a clear conscience. As we have seen, this situation has implications for Marx’s theory of commodity fetishism. Traditional readings of Marx’s theory tend to assume that, because a key part of the process of fetishization as he describes it involves the detachment of the commodity from its origins in production, production itself has no part in fetishization. Yet, as the circumstances surrounding the Victorian Santa Claus tell us, this is not the case – production and labor was, and is, also subject to fetishization. Indeed, in many ways, the production fetishism of the Father Christmas legend facilitated the subsequent elevation of the commodity to the status of autonomous, symbolic, object. By separating the object of consumption from its producing system, the legend enabled Christmas commodities to be truly fetishized: to be regarded as signs and symbols endowed with new social meaning, as opposed to merely products of an unattractive and oppressive system of industrial production. The development of the Father Christmas legend shows that in many instances, commodity fetishism depends on the prior establishment of production fetishism.
Works Cited
“A Garland for Christmas.” The Huddersfield Chronicle and West Yorkshire Advertiser, December 21, 1850.

Armstrong, Neil. Christmas in Nineteenth-Century England. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010.

“The Bad Boy and Santa Claus.” Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle, December 22, 1894.

Belk, Russell W. “Materialism and the making of the Modern American Christmas.” In Unwrapping Christmas, edited by Daniel Miller, 75-104. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.

Bown, Nicola. Fairies in Nineteenth-Century Art and Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Butler, Samuel. Erewhon or Over the Range. Auckland: Golden Press, 1973.

Carlyle, Thomas. Signs of the Times. An online edition digitized from The Collected Works of Thomas Carlyle, Vol. III. Chapman and Hall: London, 1858. Accessed November 2013,

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“The Coming of Santa Claus.” Illustrated London News, December 28, 1901.

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Dickens, Charles. Hard Times. London: Penguin, 1994.

“‘Father Christmas’ at the Children’s Hospital.” Birmingham Daily Post, January 1, 1894.

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Heighway, William. “A Visit from Santa Claus,” Kind Words for Young People, December 1, 1878.

Hobsbawm, Eric. Industry and Empire. London: Pelican, 1969.

“How I Spend Christmas.” The Bookman, December, 1909.

“Hyde-park was yesterday the scene of a demonstration which was in many respects almost unique in its character…” The Morning Post, August 26, 1889.

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Lalumia, Christine. “Scrooge and Albert.” History Today 51, no.12 (December 2001): 23-30.

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Sleigh Bells and Factory Elves: The Spectacular Economy of Santa Claus by Josh Poklad (2015 Award for Best Graduate Conference Paper)

Victorians Institute Journal Digital Annex


1  See Neil Armstrong, Christmas in nineteenth-century England, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010).

2  See Christine Lalumia, “Scrooge and Albert,” History Today 51, no.12 (December 2001), 23-30.

3  See John Pimlott, The Englishman’s Christmas: A Social History, (London: The Harvester Press, 1978), 111-119.

4  Karl Marx, Capital, Vol.I, (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1970), 72.

5  ‘In 1647, the British Parliament abolished religious festival celebrations, including Christmas, and the ban persisted for the duration of the Puritan Oliver Cromwell’s reign.’ – Russell W. Belk, “Materialism and the making of the Modern American Christmas,” in Unwrapping Christmas, ed. Daniel Miller, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 76.

6  See Armstrong, Christmas, 45, and Lalumia, “Scrooge and Albert,” 23-30.

7  Hervey’s The Book of Christmas (1836), in which he advocates the restoration of the festivities of “merry England”, did much to propagate the value system of the new Christmas amongst the reading public.

8  Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Books, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

9  Ibid. p.79.

10  Lalumia also observes this mid-century orientation towards food consumption, in “Scrooge and Albert,” 28.

11  Of course, the Victorian middle classes were keen to write his truly subversive elements out, as is betrayed by the author of an article in The Huddersfield Chronicle in 1850, who keenly qualifies the character’s indulgence in revelry as “wholesome” and “unlicentious” - “A Garland for Christmas,” The Huddersfield Chronicle and West Yorkshire Advertiser , December 21, 1850, 4.

12  Featured in Sarah A. Tooley, “The Life Story of Father Christmas,” The English Illustrated Magazine, 33, December 1905, 205-215, 206.

13  “The Streets at Christmas Time,” Illustrated London News, December 23, 1848, n.p.

14  “Christmas,” Trewman's Exeter Flying Post or Plymouth and Cornish Advertiser, December 27, 1849, n.p.

15  “The Coming of Santa Claus,” Illustrated London News, December 28, 1901.

16  Clarke Moore’s poem “‘Twas the Night before Christmas” (1823) depicted Santa (in the guise of St Nicholas) as a magical present-delivering figure.

17  See Thomas Nast, “Merry Old Santa Claus,” Harper’s Weekly, January 1, 1881, for an emblematic example of Nast’s Santa.

18  See Belk, “Materialism,” 83.

19  For instance, William Heighway’s “A Visit from Santa Claus,” featured in Kind Words for Young People, on December 1, 1878.

20  Claude Levi-Strauss, “Father Christmas Executed,” in Unwrapping Christmas ed. Daniel Miller, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 41.

21  Peter N. Stearns, Consumerism in World History: The Global Transformation of Desire, (London and New York: Routledge, 2001), 47.

22 See Lori Anne Loeb, Consuming Angels, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 8.

23  Recent research into late-century consumer culture has demonstrated that the middle class were inclined towards a more extravagant consumerism than their mid-century predecessors. For instance, Lori Anne Loeb argues for a “surprisingly…hedonistic emphasis” in late-century consumerism. – Ibid., vii (preface).

24  Stearns, Consumerism, 44.

25  “The Purveyors of Christmas Cards and New-Year Greetings Have This Year…,” Illustrated London News, September 14, 1878.

26  Eric Hobsbawm, Industry and Empire, (Pelican: London, 1969), 129.

27  The “match girls” of Bryant and May in 1888 and the following spring gas workers’ trade unionists took successful industrial action - John, Crossland, “The Dockers Who Won,” History Today 39.10, (1989), 9.

28  “Hyde-park was yesterday the scene of a demonstration which was in many respects almost unique in its character…,” The Morning Post, August 26, 1889, 4.

29  Thomas Carlyle, Signs of the Times, an online edition digitized from The Collected Works of Thomas Carlyle, Vol. III, (Chapman and Hall: London, 1858), accessed November 2013, n.p., 8th paragraph.

30  “Not the external and physical alone is now managed by machinery”, Carlyle argued, “but the internal and spiritual also”. – Ibid., 10th paragraph.

31  Charles Dickens, Hard Times, (Penguin: London, 1994), 2.

32  Jenny Kingsley, “William Morris – the social conscience of arts and crafts,” Art Book, November 2010, Vol. 17 Issue 4, 19.

33  Ibid.

34  H.G. Wells, The Time Machine, (London: Everyman, 1995).

35  ‘there is no security’, notes the writer of the ‘Book of Machines’, a document which apparently incited the Erewhonian’s anti-machine war 500 years previous to the narrator’s arrival, ‘against the ultimate development of mechanical consciousness.’ It is for this reason that the Erewhonians eradicate machines. See Samuel Butler, Erewhon or Over the Range, (Auckland: Golden Press, 1973), 190.

36  The names will be used interchangeably from here on in, as they were in the late-nineteenth century, and remain today.

37  In “How I Spend Christmas,” The Bookman, December, 1909, 137.

38  “Santa Claus the Toyman,” Illustrated London News, November 25, 1895.

39  Many Victorian commentators, such as Harriet Martineau, believed that, through increased production and technological development, capitalism would eventually furnish all with the material benefits of the consumer society.

40  Nicola Bown, Fairies in Nineteenth-Century Art and Literature, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 45

41  Ibid., 84

42  “The Story of Santa Claus,” The Glasgow Herald, January 2, 1879

43  “Father Christmas with the Classes and the Masses,” Fun, December 24, 1895, 252.

44  Annual articles in the Cardiff Western Mail were dedicated to triumphant descriptions of this charity, with the piece issued to report on the first such event in 1894 revealing that ‘as each child left the building he or she received a large bag containing several useful articles of clothing, ... [a] tin mug … [and] 3d to spend.’ – “Santa Claus,” Western Mail, December 20, 1894.

45  “‘Father Christmas’ at the Children’s Hospital,” Birmingham Daily Post, January 1, 1894

46  See “Mr Labouchere, M.P., as Santa Claus,” The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times, December 24, 1887, 408.

47  Most notably Patrick Joyce, who argues that “industrial paternalism was both pervasive and successful” in late-century Northern England – see Patrick Joyce, Work, Society & Politics: The culture of the factory in later Victorian England, (London: The Harvester Press Ltd, 1980), 136.

48  “The Lucky Thousand: Santa Claus and his more Favoured Followers,” Illustrated London News, December 31, 1910.

49  “The Bad Boy and Santa Claus,” Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle, December 22, 1894.

50  “Santa Claus in the Mines,” Leeds Mercury, December 19, 1885.

51  Anna Bartlett Warner and Susan Warner, Carl Krinken: His Christmas Stocking, (New York: G. P. Putnam & Co., 1853), 13.

52  “Looking Ahead,” Penny Illustrated Paper, November 25, 1911, 694.


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