Santa In America
While searching the Internet, I came upon this family oriented Christmas website called northpolesantaclaus.com and they shared the history of Santa In America. I thought you might enjoy reading it. I did.
Immigrants to the New
World brought along their various beliefs when they crossed the Atlantic. The
Scandinavians introduced gift-giving elves, the Germans brought not only their Belsnickle
and Chistkindle but also their decorated trees and the Irish contributed the ancient
Gaelic custom of placing a lighted candle in the window.
In the 1600's, the Dutch
presented Sinterklaas (meaning St. Nicholas) to the colonies. In their excitement, many
English-speaking children uttered the name so quickly that Sinterklaas sounded like Santy
Claus. After years of mispronunciation, the name evolved into Santa Claus.
In 1808, American author
Washington Irving created a new version of old St. Nick. This one rode over the treetops
in a horse drawn wagon "dropping gifts down the chimneys of his favorites." In
his satire, Diedrich Knickerbocker's History of New York from the Beginning of the World
to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, Irving described Santa as a jolly Dutchman who smoked a
long stemmed clay pipe and wore baggy breeches and a broad brimmed hat. Also, the familiar
phrase, "...laying his finger beside his nose...," first appeared in Irving's
That phrase was used
again in 1822 in the now-classic poem by Dr. Clement Clarke Moore, "A Visit from St.
Nicholas," more commonly know as "The Night Before Christmas." His verse
gave an Arctic flavor to Santa's image when he substituted eight tiny reindeer and a
sleigh for Irving's horse and wagon. It is Moore's description of Santa that we most often
think of today: "He had a broad face, and a little round belly, that shook, when he
laughed, like a bowl full of jelly."
Up to this point, Santa's
physical appearance and the color of his suit were open to individual interpretation. Then
in 1863, Thomas Nast, a German immigrant, gave us a visual image of the cheerful giver
that was to later become widely accepted.
When Nast was asked to
illustrate Moore's charming verse for a book of children's poems, he gave us a softer,
kinder Santa who was still old but appeared less stern than the ecclesiastical St.
Nicholas. He dressed his elfin figure in red and endowed him with human characteristics.
Most important of all, Nast gave Santa a home at the North Pole. For twenty-three years,
his annual drawings in Harpers Weekly magazine allowed Americans to peek into the magical
world of Santa Claus and set the stage for the shaping of today's merry gentleman.
Artist Haddon Sundblom
added the final touches to Santa's modern image. Beginning in 1931, his billboard and
other advertisements for Coca Cola-Cola featured a portly, grandfatherly Santa with human
proportions and a ruddy complexion. Sunblom's exuberant, twinkle-eyed Santa firmly fixed
the gift-giver's image in the public mind.
St. Nicholas' evolution
into today's happy, larger-than-life Santa Claus is a wonderful example of the blending of
countless beliefs and practices from around the world. This benevolent figure encompasses
all the goodness and innocence of childhood. And because goodness is his very essence, in
every kindness we do, Santa will always be remembered.