The BIO Five
Ghosts of Christmas Past: Icons of the Season
Everyone has certain pop cultural references they associate with Christmas. Whether it’s reading your favorite Christmas tale, singing your favorite carol, or watching back-to-back reruns of a favorite holiday special in front of the warm glow of your TV—there’s always that special something that puts you in the spirit.
But did you ever consider the people who authored many of our iconic stories, songs, and characters that represent the most wonderful time of the year? Check out some of our favorite figures of the distant and recent past who are pioneers of how we celebrate Christmas today. You may be pleasantly surprised at some of our picks…
Arguably one of the greatest Christmas storytellers, Charles Dickens was born into a poor family in 1812. The second of eight children, Dickens had to take the responsibility of providing for his family at a very young age. When he was 12 years old, he was forced to drop out of school to work in a boot blacking factory after his father was sent to prison. He considered this the time that he left his childhood behind, and it also became the inspiration for one of the most iconic characters associated with Christmas, Ebenezer Scrooge.
When writing A Christmas Carol (1844), Dickens used his father as the blueprint for creating the complex protagonist. Dickens felt conflicting emotions towards his father, who represented the man that he loved and the man he hated all in one. The same characteristics are a part of the stingy Scrooge that became a generous man by the end of the story.
After creating an immensely popular comic strip version of his childhood, Charles Schulz had the opportunity to create A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) for CBS, but it wasn’t a quick and easy process. Executives didn’t like that the cast of voice actors was made of all children, and the pace of the story was much slower than the usual cartoons that aired on TV. But the biggest problem that executives had was with the scene in which Linus explained the religious meaning of Christmas. A devout Christian, Schulz fought to have the scene in the TV special, saying that it was his responsibility to explain the birth of Jesus Christ since no one else had before. Everyone involved, aside from Schulz, was skeptical about the success of the 25-minute cartoon, but it went on to become a Christmas classic and one of the first animated Christmas productions that touched on the birth of Christ.
Clement Clarke Moore
Clement Clarke Moore turned St. Nick into a household name through a poem he wrote in 1823. While he didn’t exactly come up with the concept of Santa Claus, he created the persona of a jolly overweight guy that creeps in our houses and leaves gifts for all the kids that have managed to steer clear of the naughty list. But Moore initially penned the famous poem, “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” for a very limited audience: his own children.
Although Moore was a writer by trade, his tale of St. Nick was never meant to be published. However, Moore decided to share it anonymously a year after it was written in the Christmas Eve edition of the Troy Sentinel. The poem remained unaccredited for years until Moore released the collection, Poems, in 1844.
Robert L. May
Not every Christmas story was made for sentimental reasons. Robert L. May created Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer as an assignment for Montgomery Ward, a retail enterprise based in Chicago in 1939. A new Christmas story to give to customers in the form of a pamphlet was the perfect way to promote the company. May created the character of Rudolph by drawing from his childhood. Executives liked the idea but thought that giving a red nose to the animal would make it seem drunk; however, their concerns were squashed when they saw drawings of the innocent reindeer.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer reached new heights when it became a song. May got his brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, to create the lyrics and melody to the popular Rudolph tune, which was released in 1949. And the rest, you could say, is history.
Virginia O’Hanlon / Francis Church
An eight-year-old girl asked a simple question: Is there a Santa Claus? Who would’ve guessed that such a simple question could make such a major impact? Well, little Virginia O’Hanlon was in for a big surprise when she wrote that very question in a letter to the editor of The New York Sun in 1897. It read, “Dear Editor, I am 8 years old. Some of my friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in The Sun it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth: is there a Santa Claus?”
What followed was a very poignant response written by Francis Church, who specialized in religious and controversial issues. In spite of his fact-based background, he gave a direct response; “Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” Although there were no characters created or stories told by their exchange, the letter by O’Hanlon and the response by Church beautifully sum up the innocence that’s imbedded in Christmas and the holidays.