Hannibal News

Presentation offers look at Mark Twain's Christmas

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Dec. 15, 2018 12:01 am Updated: Dec. 15, 2018 11:25 pm

HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Mark Twain brings readers into a scene with his descriptions. It's something Henry Sweets, executive director of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum, knows from years of studying Twain.

"When they lived in the boyhood home, there was no insulation in that home," Sweets said. "What did wintertime feel like? Yet he never describes that, and I could see Mark Twain bringing goosebumps on you on a hot summer day reading his description of wintertime, but he never did."

Donning a Santa hat, Sweets read Twain's "Letter from Santa Claus" -- which he wrote to his daughter Susie Clemens -- during Saturday's "A Clemens Family Christmas" at the museum.

Twain wrote the letter to his 3-year-old daughter in 1875. In the letter, he assured her that he read the letter she had previously sent him.

In his writings, Twain doesn't mention much about Christmas, but through letters from his daughter Clara and a member of his household staff, the Clemens family Christmas celebrations are documented.

"He never described Christmas as he experienced it in Hannibal; although we know there were Christmas parades, Christmas parties that he had to be aware of, but he just chose to never write about them," Sweets said. "Later in life they celebrated in the household, and his middle daughter Clara leaves some good remembrances of Christmas."

The letter from Clara recalled a Christmas in Hartford, Conn., when an upright piano was given to her while the household staff member remembered how Christmases in the Clemens house made everyone happy with baskets and packages throughout the house.

"She (Mrs. Clemens) always had a crowd of people -- children and old people and grown-up people too -- depending on her, and she always fixed them wonderful baskets with a big turkey and cans of peas and tomatoes and vegetables, and then a bottle of wine and a great big box of candy and nuts and raisins," Sweets read. "And then there was always some stockings and underwear and a few pretty things, too. She used to give everyone a present."

Hannibal newspapers recalled Christmas during Twain's childhood.

"In 1846, Sam Clemens was 10 years old, and he may have been one of the scholars that was attending the Christmas celebration that was reported in the Hannibal Gazette," Sweets said.

Though not mentioned specifically in his writings, Twain did acknowledge the holiday letters.

"When Mark Twain was away from home on business or lecture tours, he wrote to his wife, and one such letter was written on Christmas Day and reflects on the meaning of the day, but it doesn't really talk about how the family was going to celebrate Christmas," Sweets said. "Some of his letters have some reflections, but his actual writings are actually devoid of mentioning Christmas."

Things to Do