Hey if your gonna tell your kids about Santa, tell them the truth
The Dutch brought with them the traditional "visit" from Sinter Klaas (St. Nicholas) on the eve of Dec. 5. But because the English Protestants did
not observe saints days, the Sinter Klaas visit was moved to Christmas Eve and observed then.
Author Washington Irving's (1789-1853), 1809 work "The History of New York (also called the "Knickerbocker History") was a satire on the
transplanted customs of the Dutch of New York city. The "History" contained several references to the legend of St. Nicholas as observed by the
Dutch. The St. Nicholas described by Irving was an old man in dark robes who arrived on a flying horse on the Eve of St. Nicholas to give gifts to
A little know poem, "The Children's Friend," first published in 1821. The poem went beyond what Irving had written, mentioning for the first time a
flying sleigh and a reindeer. The poem begins:
Old Santeclaus with much delight
His reindeer drives this frosty night.
O'er chimney tops, and tracks of snow,
To bring his yearly gifts to you...
Dr. Clement Clark Moore, a theology and classics professor at Union Seminary, wrote a simple poem for his children in 1822 entitled, "A Visit from
St. Nicholas," that begins with the now famous words,
Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In the hope that St. Nicholas soon would be there.
In describing St. Nicholas, Moore went beyond anything that had ever been said yet. It was Moore who increased the number of reindeer to eight and
gave us their names. It was he who explicitly described Santa going up and down the chimney leaving toys in stockings hung by the fireplace. Moore's
St. Nick was "chubby and plump a right jolly old elf;" he carried a bundle of toys on his back; "he had eyes that twinkled, dimples that were
merry, cheeks like roses, a broad face, and a little round belly." It's interesting that Moore's Santa was also a small elf who flew in a
"miniature sleigh" pulled by eight "tiny" reindeer.
Bavarian illustrator Thomas Nast gave us the picture of Santa Claus, now so common. Nast, the "father of American political cartooning," drew more
than 2200 cartoons for Harper's Weekly from 1862 through 1886. Many of these were of Santa Claus at Christmas time. Before Nast, St. Nicholas had
been pictured as everything from a stern looking bishop to a gnome-like figure in a frock (as he had been pictured in the first edition of Moore's
poem). Nast was clearly inspired by Moore's 1823 poem, but he also added additional features to the Santa Claus evolution, such as Santa's home at
the North Pole, his workshop filled with elves, and his list of all the good and bad children of the world.
The Coca-Cola company also contributed to the modern Santa Claus. Beginning in 1931 and for 35 years, Coke ran advertisements that featured a
human-size Santa (not elf-size) drinking Coke. These ads contributed much to the modern image of Santa Claus (and the drinking of coke!).