WASHINGTON -- This weekend you can meet Santa, who opposes slavery.
Here's something you might not know (unless you read our article on the topic last December): During the Civil War, old St. Nick was an abolitionist.
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Santa Claus as we know him -- jolly and fat -- is an invention of the political cartoonist Thomas Nast.
Nast -- also responsible for the popularization of the Democrats' donkey and the Republicans' elephant -- created this St. Nick for Harper's Weekly, in an 1863 image of Santa handing out gifts in a Union Civil War camp. Nast's Santa was chubby, patriotic and anti-slavery -- a 1997 New Yorker article describes how Nast made this Santa a cheerful symbol of the Unionist cause, and a tool for improving the North's morale.
There are a few places to meet Civil War Santa in the D.C. area this weekend. One of those places is the Surratt House Museum, whose St. Nick will be played by Kevin Rawlings. (Rawlings' LinkedIn profile says he's been a "Self employed researcher, author & professional Santa Claus" for more than 20 years).
Rawlings' outfit -- which consists of a blue jacket with white stars and red-and-white striped pants, according to a 2005 profile in Hagerstown Magazine -- is based on Nast's illustration. And it isn't only appealing to kids.
“A fair amount of adults want to sit on my lap and get their pictures taken with me,” Rawlings said.
The all-red suit that Santa now wears is often, but wrongly, attributed to some Coca-Cola ads from the 1930s. You can see in the slides above that Santa was dressed in red well before the 1930s, but no one is quite sure when his outfit changed.
Required reading: More than a decade ago, the Los Angeles Times chronicled Rawlings' skirmishes with a "rebel Civil War Santa," dressed in a modified Confederate lieutenant general's coat of disputable authenticity.
"I have done my homework," Rawlings told the LA Times, "and there is no documentation for a Confederate Santa Claus."
See Civil War Santa on Saturday from noon-4 p.m. at the Surratt House Museum (9118 Brandywine Road, Clinton, Md.). The Civil War Christmas celebration at the Pry House Field Hospital Museum (18906 Shepherdstown Pike, Keedysville, Md.) will also feature a Civil War Santa from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday.
And now, a slideshow of non-Civil War Santas SCUBA diving with sardines in South Korea: