THE LEGEND OF SANTA CLAUS
Even after the Protestant Reformation, when the veneration of saints began to be discouraged, St. Nicholas maintained a positive reputation, especially in Holland.
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 popularise 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 “rascal” with a blue three-cornered hat, red waistcoat, and yellow stockings to a man wearing a broad-brimmed hat and a “huge pair of Flemish trunk hose.”
Gift-giving, mainly centred around children, has been an important part of the Christmas celebration since the holiday’s rejuvenation in the early 19th century.
Stores began to advertise Christmas shopping in 1820, and by the 1840s,
newspapers were creating separate sections for holiday advertisements, which often featured images of the newly-popular Santa Claus. In 1841, thousands of children visited a Philadelphia shop to see a life-size Santa Claus model. It was only a matter of time before stores began to attract children, and their parents, with the lure of a peek at a “live” Santa Claus. In the early 1890s, the Salvation Army needed money to pay for the free Christmas meals they provided to needy families.
They began dressing up unemployed men in Santa Claus suits and sending them into the streets of New York to solicit donations.
In 1822, Clement Clarke Moore, an Episcopal minister, wrote a long Christmas poem for his three daughters entitled “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas.
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 right jolly old elf 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 popularise the now-familiar image of a Santa Claus who flew from house to house on Christmas Eve in a miniature sleigh led by eight flying reindeer leaving presents for deserving children. “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas.”
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.