“The Same Old Story Over Again”
Thomas Nast (1840-1902), often called “the father of American political cartoons,” is equally famous for his depictions of Santa Claus and Christmas regularly published during the second half of the nineteenth century. Nast is credited with popularizing the image of a distinctly American Santa Claus in the United States.
Nast drew “The Same Old Story Over Again”, shown here, in 1872; the illustration was published in Harper’s Weekly on January 4, 1873. By this point in his life, Nast had been working for Harper’s Weekly for ten years. The illustration shows two sleeping children, likely his own children Thomas Jr. and Edith, dreaming about all the wonderful childhood stories with which they would have been familiar. Nursery rhymes and children’s stories dominate the scene; Puss in Boots, Jack and Jill and Little Red Riding Hood can be seen among the many other stories.
In the upper left hand corner of the illustration, the Mother Goose nursery rhyme “Hey Diddle Diddle” is depicted showing the cow jumping over the moon. In 1880 Nast would publish “Merry Christmas” in which he showed Santa dancing with Mother Goose. In “Merry Christmas” Nast portrayed the entire “Hey Diddle Diddle” poem in the background. “The Same Old Story Over Again” depicts a second Mother Goose nursery rhyme: the story of Little-Bo-Peep. Near the mouth of the sleeping child on the left Nast shows Bo-Peep searching for her sheep who roam aimlessly around her. In 1879 Nast would also draw an entire Christmas image dedicated to Little Bo-Peep, which also featured Santa Claus.
In addition to the children’s stories, Nast includes vignettes of the United States military in “The Same Old Story Over Again.” The artist was a big supporter of the soldiers and sailors who fought to keep the United States safe and unified during his lifetime. Nast had drawn pro-military images less than a decade before during the Civil War. Throughout his career Nast would draw cartoons supporting pay raises for military personnel as well to advocate for increased government spending on the military. On the right side of “The Same Old Story Over Again” soldiers are shown being led by a color bearer who proudly raises the flag high in the air.
In the center of the lower portion of this illustration Nast depicted Santa Claus with his sleigh and reindeer ready to deliver his large sack of gifts to good boys and girls. Santa is dressed from head to toe in his fur coat and pants. Even the gifts that Santa Claus is set to deliver show the patriotic theme of the United States flag and a drum and bugle that would have been used by the military. You can see one drum on his back and one more among the presents in his sleigh.
“The Same Old Story Over Again” would be republished in 1890 by Harper’s Brothers in the book of collected images titled “Christmas Drawings for the Human Race.” This book featured many of Nast’s Christmas drawings published in Harper’s Weekly over the years together with a few new ones.
Ryan Hyman, F.M. Kirby Curator of Collections