- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 21, 2000


This Santa Claus wears stars and stripes, that one a Confederate uniform. It's the Civil War, Christmas-style, in a border state where the North-South conflict seems as eternal as Old Saint Nick.

Robert W. Parker, proud descendant of a Confederate veteran, created his Rebel Santa suit after seeing another Civil War history buff, Kevin Rawlings, in a costume with a distinctively Union cut several years ago.

Mr. Parker stitched together a bright red version of a Confederate lieutenant general's coat and started spreading a Southern version of the Santa Claus legend.

"We were brothers separated at birth. He was taken north, and I was taken south, and that's how we can do the whole world in one night," Mr. Parker, of Brandywine, Md., tells curious children.

His outfit hardly needs explaining, though, in an area where battle re-enactments are as routine as county fairs and passions still simmer over Maryland's deep wartime division.

A slave state situated below the Mason-Dixon line, Maryland stayed in the Union with some reluctance as Union troops occupied Annapolis, the state capital. Had Maryland seceded, Washington would have been surrounded by Confederate territory.

Given that history, splitting up Santa Claus seems only natural to some.

"It's kind of appropriate for this area. You couldn't get much closer to an area where the division actually took place," Michael Graves says as his daughters Michelle, 11, and Megan, 5, visit with Mr. Parker at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Mr. Rawlings has stationed himself at the museum each of his 11 years as a Civil War Santa. He and Mr. Parker, who both sport chest-length beards, occasionally bump into each other during the Christmas season.

"We're friendly. We haven't decided to go into the cage of death and duel," says Mr. Rawlings, 44, a Sharpsburg, Md., resident and author of a Civil War history book, "We Were Marching on Christmas Day."

He quibbles with Mr. Parker's costume, though. Mr. Rawlings modeled his own star-spangled blue coat and red-and-white striped pants after a Santa Claus drawn by Thomas Nast for the Christmas 1862 issue of Harper's Weekly magazine. He contends Mr. Parker's outfit lacks authenticity.

"I have done my homework, and there is no documentation for a Confederate Santa Claus," he says.

The Nast illustration shows Santa dangling a strangled puppet of Confederate President Jefferson Davis before Union troops. It is a clearly partisan image; Mr. Parker says Mr. Rawlings' outfit is, too.

"In Richmond in 1860, he would not have been very popular," says Mr. Parker, 54, a safety inspector.

He bases his shtick in part on a children's story written by Louise Clack, "General Lee and Santa Claus," published in 1867, two years after the war. The story, aimed at appeasing deprived Southern children, has Lee ordering Santa to sell Christmas toys and buy medical supplies and food for wounded Confederate soldiers.

"Santa is Santa, and Santa loves children, so that part is not political, per se," Mr. Parker says, "but the way he was drawn by Thomas Nast, giving toys and food to the Union troops, there were two different Santas."

Mr. Rawlings, who has worn both blue and gray in battle re-enactments, says he is only interested in historical accuracy. Ultimately, though, he says the costume is less important than the generous spirit of Santa Claus, whose image has been evolving for centuries.

"When kids ask me how old I am, I say, 'I'm 1,500 years old, and this is what I happened to pull out of my closet today,' " Mr. Rawlings says.

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