As I was working on my annual Christmas in the Civil War talk, I came upon a letter from Colonel Phillipe Regis Denis de Keredern de Trobriand. In it, de Trobriand asks his wife if she has seen an engraving of a soldier at the front and a wife back at home. The sketch drawn by Thomas Nast is titled “Christmas Eve.” I have always found the sketch very poignant. My father served in the military, and although he speaks very little about his service, every Christmas he tells me of his first Christmas in the military. He spent that Christmas thousands of miles away from home, in a foreign country.
I believe that Nast did an outstanding job of storytelling with this period engraving, while wrapping the emotions of joy, loneliness, and sorrow into the piece. While your eye is drawn to the soldier and his wife, there is much more going on. Nast shows scenes of Santa Claus climbing down the chimney. A flotilla is tossed around in the sea. Soldiers seem to be trudging along in the snow. And then there is the line of shallow graves in the bottom-center of the engraving. Colonel de Trobriand was also taken by this sketch, he clearly could relate to the picket by the fire.
“Have you seen the beautiful engraving in Harpers Weekly, ‘Christmas Eve.’ How pretty it is; but it is not exactly so cheerful. As the soldier stands next to the fire on picket, so I often think of the portrait of my children by the light of the fire in my tent, in a little chimney of earth and brick before which I am alone in my chair!”
I hope in the hustle and bustle of this holiday season we all take the time out to remember those that are unable to be at home for Christmas, especially those serving abroad in our military.