The sleigh got clamped and is languishing in dusty obscurity in a garage somewhere near the North Pole, and poor old Rudolph has been deemed surplus to requirements and has unceremoniously been given his P45. Why? Because Santa has decided to get bang up to date with his transportation this Christmas, and he’s bought a motor car. And just look at him go! Those presents will be delivered extra fast this year, although he better leave all those tempting glasses of sherry alone – Santa getting nicked for drink driving would just ruin Christmas…
Slightly anachronistic sarcasm aside, this is a delightful festive cartoon taken from the 26th December 1896 issue of the long-running satirical magazine Punch, and it is the work of John Tenniel (1820-1914). That name may seem familiar to readers, and it probably should do – Tenniel’s most famous and best-loved works are his wonderful original illustrations for the children’s classics Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass and What Alice Found There.
I must admit, I absolutely love Tenniel’s witty depiction of Santa as a boy racer. The old chap does look like he’s having fun roaring round on his new toy. The way Santa’s beard is shown blown back to represent what would have been the then-ridiculous speed he is going at is great (although it’s intriguing to see how his hat seems to have stayed firmly wedged on his head!), and the way that festive greenery has been arranged round the front of the car like a Christmas wreath is suitably seasonal. However, I do have some doubts about the car’s ability to fly – one wonders if horsepower is more efficient than reindeer power over the course of Christmas Eve!? I’m sure Rudolph would have something to say about that…
Despite petrol driven motor cars having been in development for a good few years, Santa is genuinely very up-to-date here. The year 1896 was actually an important one in the history of motoring and cars were definitely in the news – indeed, Henry Ford had made and sold his first car during that year; marking the beginning of a business that continues to this day. It was also round about this period that early motor cars began appearing on British roads, which must have come as a bit of a shock to people more used to horse-drawn methods of transport (and all those now-unemployed reindeer too).
Proving that some things never change, modern drivers may not be surprised to learn that 1896 also saw the first speeding ticket issued in the UK (for going at an unprecedented 8mph in a 2mph zone!) and, sadly, the first known pedestrian death in a car accident. Less than a year later, the first prosecution for drink driving occurred (don’t worry, it wasn’t Santa) – and all of this was before the introduction of driving lessons, tests, licenses and the Highway Code in the UK.
But none of that, of course, worries our motoring Santa. He’s on his way, with a sack full of toys and the wind in his impressively flowing beard. I’m sure he’ll be visiting you later, delivering your presents in a puff of exhaust fumes and road dust. I hope you’re hanging your stocking with care tonight, and you’ve left him a flask of lukewarm tea, mince pies and a map of the M25 to sustain him through the night. You have? Great!
Wait! What’s that? Hang on a minute. Is that the sound of sleigh bells… I mean a car horn… I hear…?
And since it is Christmas Eve after all, may I take this opportunity to thank you all for reading in 2017 and to wish everyone a very happy festive season, whether you celebrate or not (celebrating certainly isn’t mandatory, so don’t ever feel you have to – personally, I intend to spend Christmas Day on my own, blissfully eating chocolate and watching TV in my pyjamas. Can’t wait!). Whether you’re working, dealing with family or, like me, on your own tomorrow, I hope you have a good day.
Merry Christmas to you all!
If you’re feeling particularly festive, you can find links to lots more seasonal reading here.