Images: The Mistletoe Tradition at Salt Lake City

By December 23, 2014

Note: the post below includes images of pejorative racial and ethnic stereotypes from 1912.

Today?s image, ?The Mistletoe Tradition at Salt Lake City,? came to my attention via Bunker and Bitton?s The Mormon Graphic Image, 1834-1914, where it illustrates a period (1908-1914) when portrayals of Mormons declined in frequency and hostility. ?Mistletoe…? comes from the British Punch?s Almanack for 1912—an appendage to the more famous Punch—and Bunker and Bitton only included the Mormon part of the full-page, three-panel gag about cultural exchange in British colonialism. [1] The whole page is below.

MistletoeTraditionAtSLC PunchsAlmanackFor1912 NoPageNum Crop

The heading text says: ?Despite apathy at home, the good old English Christmas has lost none of its popularity abroad.?

The caption for the first panel is ?Bringing in the yule log at Itzegnanda?s Kraal.? The ?kraal? in the name and the dress and weapons suggest southern Africa.

The caption for the second panel is ?Plucking the bird at the forty-ninth cataract,? which is presumably somewhere in Sudan to the south of the six cataracts of the Nile and where hijab is prevalent. The bird is, thus, probably a North African ostrich, and possibly a previously unacknowledged ancestor of the Angry Birds?.

The caption for the third panel is, as noted, ?The Mistletoe tradition at Salt Lake City.? Besides the juxtaposition of the three panels, I am intrigued by the relative size of the man compared to the women; the differences in facial expression, feet placement, and hand position; and the condition of the man?s head and facial hair.

One more piece of information: the artist, E. H. Shepard, is best-remembered by present-day audiences for his illustrations in The Wind in the Willows and Winnie-the-Pooh. [2]



[1] Gary L Bunker and Davis Bitton, The Mormon Graphic Image, 1834-1914 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1983). Bunker and Bitton label the image as ?Figure 60?; it is discussed on p 71 and reproduced on p 72. The Almanack appears to have been a stand-alone addendum to Punch?s regular editions. I don?t know when it was published. It has a calendar for 1912, which makes me think it came out at the end of 1911. Bunker and Bitton give the publication date as 1912 Jun 26. In the bound collection of Punch (1912, Vol 142) that Google digitized, the Almanack is placed at the end of the year, ie, after the last 1912 December edition of Punch and the index. There are no page numbers, but the image is almost at the end of the Almanack. The image was digitized by Google for the University of California and provided by Hathitrust.

[2] I am not sure if the artist for the second panel is Shepard; the signature could be ?E. H. S.? but is not clear.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Serious comment later, but for now: Angry Birds reference ftw.

    Comment by Ben P — December 23, 2014 @ 7:07 am

  2. Okay, back for the more serious comment.

    Besides being comparatively small, the polygamous man seems obviously overwhelmed and exhausted. And given the common theme with the other cartoons is someone being overly taxed through work, it is clear that the man is supposed to appear oppressed. To me, this seems to play on the notion that Mormonism sapped men their masculinity, as they were not in charge of the domestic sphere due to being outnumbered and overmatched by what appear to be overbearing wives. And with the obvious racial overtones with the other two depictions, it seems to suggestion that Mormonism in general, and polygamy in particular, was creating a new, weaker race of men, no better than indigenous populations who labor for their taskmaskers without authority or civilization.

    Comment by Ben P — December 23, 2014 @ 3:06 pm

  3. I will never look at Winnie-the-Poo the same way again.

    Comment by Katherine — December 24, 2014 @ 8:34 am

  4. Shown alongside what would have been seen as “primitive” or “backward” cultures, is it saying that Mormonism is a corruption and misunderstanding of the western traditions? Hasn’t Mormonism been compared to other exotic or eastern cultures (like Muslims), to distance them from “civilized” Christianity?

    Ben’s points are interesting. I expected Mormon men to be shown as predators, or power-holders, not victims. This man is trapped in a closed room, lit by fireplace, in the hot seat with his hands between his clenched knees as he is unwillingly eyed by women with ideas. His affection is intended for the old, the homely, and the grumpy. Does this leave the impression that the polygamous society requires full engagement of all conceivable female prospects, in order to have enough wives to go around? It takes the sexual appeal out of the scandal of polygamy. It deflates the Mormon menace into a joke.

    1912 was eight years after the Smoot hearings and the second manifesto were supposed to announce the end of Mormon polygamy. (Did this contribute to this image of polygamists as a dying generation, not recruiting fresh blood?)

    And wasn’t there a newspaper campaign during these years against Mormonism (sort of an early Mormon moment)? What was that about?

    Comment by Rich JJ — December 25, 2014 @ 10:14 pm

  5. Really great as usual, Edje. The weak male image was a threat made by some Church leaders for men who engaged their plural wives in sex for pleasure. In doing so, they would lose their position as head of the family.

    Comment by WVS — December 28, 2014 @ 1:08 am


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