The history behind Santa Claus

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 20, 2005

I spent a lot of time the past week with the letters to Santa. It’s probably one of best things I get to do all year.

Viewing Santa through the eyes of the smallest of children is so much fun.

There were several letters that stood out.

There was the little girl from Helena Elementary who wanted to give Santa &8220;the Molly 411.&8221; Her name was Molly.

Another little Molly from Mt. Laurel Elementary was very honest.

&8220;I am a little spoiled but over all I think I have been pretty good.&8221;

She went on to tell Santa that her school (Mt. Laurel) had taken a vote to see how many believed in Santa.

&8220;So many people voted I don’t believe,&8221; she wrote; but not this Molly. She believes, she assured Santa in her letter.

She ended her letter asking for &8220;something good&8221; for her teacher, Mrs. Walker. She even gave Santa an example if he needed it. Chocolate, she said.

Now, that’s my kind of present.

Landon Bentley, a second grader from Elvin Hill Elementary, told Santa all he really wanted was a bell from Santa’s sleigh. He also asked for some Dry Erase markers for his teacher.

What a sweet child!

There were other really sweet ones, too.

A little boy named Jamarius offered Santa some advice.

&8220;If you have a sun and he has a sister and you get a cold you do not have to cancle Christmas,&8221; he wrote. &8220;You could have one of them deliver the presents for you.&8221;

But he was quick to point out, &8220;I know Christmas isn’t about getting its about giving.&8221;

He may have ended his letter with the sweetest thing I’ve ever read.

&8220;I know I really represhate (appreciate) all you have done for the world.&8221;

Another little girl named Chloe asked Santa to do a favor for her.

&8220;All the kids that where in huracane Katrina I wish you could go to everybody’s house and can you give the kids from huracane Katrina some presents for Christmas so they have something to play with,&8221; she wrote.

Chloe didn’t ask for anything for herself.

Children are very, very smart and definitely aware of what is going on around them – even though we try and try to shelter them from the bad.

Little ones such as Chloe and Jamarius are our hope for a brighter future. I think that’s why I love reading their sweet letters to Santa so much.

Earliest memories

What are your earliest memories of Santa Claus?

I tried to think back to my earliest memory of Jolly Old Saint Nick. I can’t actually remember seeing or talking to Santa, not one time, even though I know my parents took my brother and I to see Santa every year.

I do remember the anticipation of waiting on Christmas eve. As with another of the children who wrote to Santa from Elvin Hill Elementary last week, we were &8220;half good and half bad,&8221; so we were never quite sure where we’d end up on Santa’s scale.

I remember waking up early one Christmas morning and peeking around the corner to find my parents putting together bicycles for us (Santa must have asked them to assemble the bikes after he left them).

I also remember the little boy who told Chris there was no Santa. I spent the next several years convincing him that little boy was terribly incorrect.

I was so upset that my little brother would not believe. I tried to make sure he always believed.

Origin of Santa Claus

I’ve always enjoyed researching things. So just the other day when I caught the end of a History channel special on Santa Claus, I decided to do a little research of my own. Let me share what I found.

The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas. It is believed that Nicholas was born sometime around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. Much admired for his piety and kindness, St. Nicholas became the subject of many legends. It is said that he gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick.

Over the course of many years, Nicholas’s popularity spread and he became known as the protector of children and sailors.

By the Renaissance, he was the most popular saint in Europe, and even after the Protestant Reformation, when the veneration of saints began to be discouraged, St. Nicholas maintained a positive reputation, especially in Holland.

St. Nicholas made his first inroads into American popular culture toward the end of the 18th century. In December 1773, and again in 1774, a New York newspaper reported that groups of Dutch families had gathered to honor the anniversary of his death.

The name Santa Claus evolved from Nick’s Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas).

In 1804, John Pintard, a member of the New York Historical Society, distributed woodcuts of St. Nicholas at the society’s annual meeting. The background of the engraving contains now-familiar Santa images including stockings filled with toys and fruit hung over a fireplace.

In 1809, Washington Irving helped to popularize the Sinter Klaas stories when he referred to St. Nicholas as the patron saint of New York in his book, The History of New York.

As his prominence grew, Sinter Klaas was described as everything from a &8220;rascal&8221; with a blue three-cornered hat, red waistcoat, and yellow stockings to a man wearing a broad-brimmed hat and a &8220;huge pair of Flemish trunk hose.&8221;

In 1822, Clement Clarke Moore, an Episcopal minister, wrote a long Christmas poem for his three daughters titled, &8220;An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas.&8221;

Moore’s poem, which he was initially hesitant to publish due to the frivolous nature of its subject, is largely responsible for our modern image of Santa Claus as a &8220;right jolly old elf&8221; with a portly figure and the supernatural ability to ascend a chimney with a mere nod of his head.

Although some of Moore’s imagery was probably borrowed from other sources, his poem helped to popularize the now-familiar idea of a Santa Claus who flew from house to house on Christmas Eve – in &8220;a miniature sleigh&8221; led by eight flying reindeer, whom he also named – leaving presents for deserving children.

&8220;An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,&8221; created a new and immediately popular American icon.

In 1881, political cartoonist Thomas Nast drew on Moore’s poem to create the first likeness that matches our modern image of Santa Claus.

His cartoon, which appeared in Harper’s Weekly, depicted Santa as a rotund, cheerful man with a full, white beard, holding a sack laden with toys for lucky children.

It is Nast who gave Santa his bright red suit trimmed with white fur, North Pole workshop, elves and his wife, Mrs. Claus.

So, there it is. That’s the history of our modern-day version of Santa Claus.

What an incredibly fun lesson in believing! Merry Christmas