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THIS WEEK IN THE CIVIL WAR / Christmas in wartime ; 1861

Christmas Day in a divided nation is a more muted holiday than in years past, but still not absent its joys and celebrations.

Though fathers and sons have soldiered off to war and are absent from the feast, the caroling and family gatherings around the Christmas tree go on, both in the North and the South.

On this Christmas Day 1861, President Abraham Lincoln holds yet another strained Cabinet meeting as he seeks an end to an impasse with Britain over two Confederate envoys seized by his Navy from a British packet ship. The same evening he presides over the Christmas party at the White House, pressing for a semblance of holiday cheer despite a diplomatic crisis, war and the absence in his nation of "peace on Earth."

The New York Herald-Tribune reports many in New York City managed good cheer in the Christmas season as churches filled to overflowing, ice skating was had on frozen ponds, and many made merry.

"The little ones ransacked the repositories of Chris Kringle, shouted the elves hoarse with delight over the treasures which the jolly old fellow had dropped for them over-night and after that the winged hours of the long Winter evening passed imperceptibly away, with song and dance, and jest and laugh, lightening the heart, and making each participant more happy and content with his burden, brightening the future with new hope."

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