A comment made by a friend made me realize I don’t know much at all about Santa. Really. I don’t.
I was that child who didn’t get to believe in Santa despite her siblings and her friends all believing in Santa. (I suspect there is some deeper mental and psychological developments connected to this. But, that would be another story.) We had our own traditions; Santa came to visit; I knew Santa was Larry. As I grew I picked up bits here and there about other’s traditions, I learned about other celebrations Solstice, Yule, etc. But, I never bothered to read up on “Who is Santa?”
So, here is some poking around to figure out who the Americanized Santa is….
Starting in the early 1800’s, here is a passage from Washington Irving’s 1809 Knickerbocker’s History of New York. Chapter IX
At this early period was instituted that pious ceremony, still religiously observed in all our ancient families of the right breed, of hanging up a stocking in the chimney on St. Nicholas Eve; which stocking is always found in the morning miraculously filled; for the good St. Nicholas has ever been a great giver of gifts, particularly to children.
I am moreover told that there is a little legendary book somewhere extant, written in Low Dutch, which says that the image of this renowned saint, which whilom graced the bow-sprit of the Goede Vrouw, was elevated in front of this chapel, in the center of what in modern days is called the Bowling Green—on the very spot, in fact, where he appeared in vision to Oloffe the Dreamer. And the legend further treats of divers miracles wrought by the mighty pipe which the saint held in his mouth; a whiff of which was a sovereign cure for an indigestion—an invaluable relic in this colony of brave trenchermen. As however, in spite of the most diligent search, I cannot lay my hands upon this little book, I must confess that I entertain considerable doubt on the subject.
I’m a little puzzled by this 1821 “The Children’s Friend” poem as some source say it was published anonymously and others attribute it to Clement Clark Moore who was long said to have written “T’was” but now, it seems may not have. It also seems to have a second name as well, “Old Santeclaus”
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. The steady friend of virtuous youth, The friend of duty, and of truth, Each Christmas eve he joys to come Where love and peace have made their home. Through many houses he has been, And various beds and stockings seen; Some, white as snow, and neatly mended, Others, that seemed for pigs intended. Where e’er I found good girls or boys, That hated quarrels, strife and noise, I left an apple, or a tart, Or wooden gun, or painted cart. To some I gave a pretty doll, To some a peg-top, or a ball; No crackers, cannons, squibs, or rockets, To blow their eyes up, or their pockets. No drums to stun their Mother’s ear, Nor swords to make their sisters fear; But pretty books to store their mind With knowledge of each various kind. But where I found the children naughty, In manners rude, in temper haughty, Thankless to parents, liars, swearers, Boxers, or cheats, or base tale-bearers, I left a long, black, birchen rod, Such as the dread command of God Directs a Parent’s hand to use When virtue’s path his sons refuse.
Clement Clarke Moore‘s “A Visit From St. Nicholas” also know as “T’was the Night Before Christmas” was written in 1823.
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the houseNot a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;The children were nestled all snug in their beds;While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.Away to the window I flew like a flash,Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,Gave a lustre of midday to objects below,When what to my wondering eyes did appear,But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer,With a little old driver so lively and quick,I knew in a moment he must be St. Nick.More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen!To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;So up to the housetop the coursers they flewWith the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too—And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roofThe prancing and pawing of each little hoof.As I drew in my head, and was turning around,Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry!His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow;The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath;He had a broad face and a little round bellyThat shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;A wink of his eye and a twist of his headSoon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,And laying his finger aside of his nose,And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”