Look at it. I have no clue what’s happening.
I mean, sure, it’s a guy dressed in (or maybe who just is) a tree kissing a snowman. But…why?
There are quite a few riffs on this theme, and it was also a trend. Here’s another from the same series (both around 1909 and found sent in Iowa, according to John Grossman in Christmas Curiosities), and there’s another down further.
These guys are almost the same as the English Jack-in-the-Green, but he’s usually associated with May Day celebrations. I can’t find anything about him being a Christmas figure. Nonetheless, the “tree man” shows up in a few different contexts, sometimes as a giant, huge, Ent-like creature:
But there are also a lot of examples of people dressing in holly, which seems uncomfortable to say the least. And since it’s mostly kids, I’m guessing these images are mainly for the festive whimsy.
But the ones I really like are the ones that show these “tree men” as kinds of winter spirits, and they really remind me of the “Green Man,” a figure often found in England, questionably Celtic, but who’s usually assumed to represent cyclical rebirth.* That’s obviously a good winter solstice image.
I particularly like that the Green Man is often connected to the “Wild Man” or “Wood Wose,” a European legend about the mythic native man who’s like the remaining caveman or connection to nature. And, as I talked about in the first podcast, that ancient wild man is also possibly connected to the origin of Krampus, Santa Claus, and lots of other Christmas figures. (Most of that connection can be found in Phillis Siefker’s Santa Claus: ast of the Wild Men.)
But who knows. It might just be that the artists were pressured to get stuff drawn asap and thought, “let’s throw a face in a Christmas tree and go wassailing!”
The simplest answer is usually right, but not the most entertaining.
*There’s so much argument in research and online about who and what the Green Man actually is, so anything I link to, even wikipedia, is gonna piss off someone who’s involved with these debates. I apologize in advance for not choosing your favorite.