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Civil War-style Santa coming to Chatham tomorrow night
Portraying Civil War Santa for historic ceremony 15 years ago has led man to portraying 19th-century Santas up and down the East Coast

 Kevin Rawlings will portray a 19th-century Santa, modeled after one drawn by artist Thomas Nast, tomorrow night at historic Chatham Manor in southern Stafford. Others will depict Union troops after the Battle of Fredericksburg.
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Date published: 12/11/2003


FIFTEEN YEARS ago, Kevin Rawlings was a Civil War re-enactor looking for an interesting role to play at a grand illumination commemoration at the Antietam battlefield.

Looking for a different twist, he seized upon the Civil War Santa Claus depicted by Thomas Nast for the 1862 Christmas season Harper's Weekly.

The Sharpsburg, Md., resident enlisted the help of his wife for the costume, a blue coat with large white stars, topping red-and-white striped pants.

Though the celebration was beset with such cold weather that Rawlings' Santa had to move indoors, visitors were struck by the costume's authenticity and the amateur historian's love for the Civil War and the evolution of the character known as Santa.

"Before long, I was traveling all over the country, to historic sites, museums and other places to portray a Civil War Santa," Rawlings said. "It's to the point now where I'm booked a year or two in advance."

Tomorrow night, Fredericksburg-area residents will get a chance to see Rawlings as the Thomas Nast Union-sympathizing Santa, and to hear about Christmas traditions during the Civil War. The National Park Service is holding a special program, "Privation and Joy: Wartime Christmas at Chatham," at the historic Chatham Manor in Stafford County, from 6 to 8:30.

In addition to Rawlings' Santa, the look at Christmas in 1862 will include a visit with Federal soldiers around a fire. They will talk of missing loved ones, and of the disastrous defeat in the Battle of Fredericksburg days earlier.

Inside Chatham, a Southern lady and a slave will give details about their Christmas in 1862, surrounded by greenery and candles similar to what would have been used for decorations during the Civil War.

Rawlings will appear each half-hour or so. After the presentations, visitors are welcome to enjoy refreshments and an open house with the chance to see some of the rooms not normally open to the public.

After hearing about Rawlings from the folks at Chatham, I was curious to find out how he's become perhaps the foremost authority on Civil War Santas, as well as other historic representations of the big, bearded figure.

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