In any case, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” became a defining American holiday classic. Hageman, Howard, Book review: Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bari, and Manhattan: Biography of a Legend by Charles W. Jones, Theology Today, October 1979, Jones, Charles W., “Knickerbocker Santa Claus,”The New-York Historical Society Quarterly, Volume XXXVIII Number 4, October 1954, St. Nicholas Future at VTSSt. Not exactly St. Nicholas, the children’s gift-giver. In 1863, during the Civil War, political cartoonist Thomas Nast began a series of annual black-and-white drawings in Harper’s Weekly, based on the descriptions found in the poem and Washington Irving’s work. These “sons’ of Saint Nicholas seem not to have known their father’s birthday.” Charles W. Jones, Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bari, and Manhattan: Biography of a Legend, p. 333. Nicholas Exhibit. More than anything else, “A Visit From St. Nicholas” introduced the custom of a cozy, domestic Santa Christmas tradition to the nation. John Pintard, the influential patriot and antiquarian who founded the New York Historical Society in 1804, promoted St. Nicholas as patron saint of both society and city. Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nicholas the Wonderworker. How St. Nicholas Became Santa Claus In the 16th Century in northern Europe, after the reformation, the stories and traditions about St. Nicholas became unpopular. St. Nicholas Center All rights reserved. Santa Claus, Father Christmas, St. Nick—no matter the name, everyone knows … Colonial Germans in Pennsylvania kept the feast of St. Nicholas, and several later accounts have St. Nicholas visiting New York Dutch on New Years’ Eve, thus adopting the English custom (New Year gift-giving had become the English custom in 1558, supplanting Nicholas, and this English custom lasted in New York until 1847). Childhood was coming to be seen as a stage of life in which greater protection, sheltering, training and education were needed. Along with appearance changes, the saint’s name shifted to Santa Claus—a natural phonetic alteration from the German Sankt Niklaus. The anonymous poem and illustrations proved pivotal in shifting imagery away from a saintly bishop. History tells the tale. Washington Irving’s St. Nicholas strongly influenced the poem’s portrayal of a round, pipe-smoking, elf-like St. Nicholas. For indeed, St. Nicholas, lover of the poor and patron saint of children, is a model of how Christians are meant to live. Even though both reformers and counter-reformers tried to stamp out St. Nicholas-related customs, they had very little long-term success except in England where the religious folk traditions were permanently altered. John Pintard commissioned artist Alexander Anderson to create the first American image of Nicholas for the occasion. After the American Revolution, New Yorkers remembered with pride their colony’s nearly-forgotten Dutch roots. All of this began to change as a new understanding of family life and the place of children was emerging. The 19th century was a time of cultural transition. Nicholas was shown in a gift-giving role with children’s treats in stockings hanging at a fireplace. This long predated Haddon Sundbom's Coca-Cola Santas that began in 1931. Livingston was a farmer/patriot who wrote humorous verse for children. It’s been a long journey from the Fourth Century Bishop of Myra, St. Nicholas, who showed his devotion to God in extraordinary kindness and generosity to those in need, to America’s jolly Santa Claus, whose largesse often supplies luxuries to the affluent. Families, churches, and schools are embracing true St Nicholas traditions as one way to claim the true center of Christmas—the birth of Jesus. Today, he is thought of mainly as the jolly (It is ironic that fervent Puritan Christians began what turned into a trend to a more secular Christmas observance.) Many other artists also pictured Santa in red before Sundblom. These drawings established a rotund Santa with flowing beard, fur garments, and an omnipresent clay pipe. Moore was a friend and neighbor of William Gilley, who had published Sancte Claus in 1821: However, a case has been made by Don Foster in Author Unknown, that Henry Livingston actually penned it in 1807 or 1808. The holiday season, coming after harvest when work was eased and more leisure possible, was a time when workers and servants took the upper hand, demanding largess and more. Churches, influenced by German immigrants who loved Christmas, Clement Clarke Moore, Washington Irving, Charles Dickens, the Oxford Movement in the Anglican church, and church musicians embracing carol singing, began to bring Christmas observances into their lives. 1. Copyright © 2002–2020 And so the season came gradually to be tamed, turning toward shops and home. 1821 brought some new elements with publication of the first lithographed book in America, the Children’s Friend. Santa illustrations from the popular children's magazine St. Nicholas. The image was solidified before Haddon Sundblom, in 1931, began thirty-five years of Coca-Cola Santa advertisements that further popularized and firmly established this Santa as an icon of contemporary commercial culture. Christoph, Peter R., “Saint Nicholas,” The Encyclopedia of New York State, Sample Entries. In 1773 New York non-Dutch patriots formed the Sons of St. Nicholas 1, primarily as a non-British symbol to counter the English St. George societies, rather than to honor St. Nicholas. The poem generally has been attributed to Clement Clark Moore, a professor of biblical languages at New York’s Episcopal General Theological Seminary. No matter who wrote it, the poem has had enormous influence on the Americanization of St. Nicholas. Sante Claus fit a didactic mode, rewarding good behavior and punishing bad, leaving a “long, black birchen rod … directs a Parent’s hand to use when virtue’s path his sons refuse.” Gifts were safe toys, “pretty doll … peg-top, or a ball; no crackers, cannons, squibs, or rockets to blow their eyes up, or their pockets. The poem and other descriptions of the Santa Claus ritual appeared in more and more local papers. The New York Historical Society held its first St. Nicholas anniversary dinner on December 6, 1810. Because the common people so loved St. Nicholas, he survived on the European continent as people continued to place nuts, apples, and sweets in shoes left beside beds, on windowsills, or before the hearth. This society was similar to the Sons of St. Tammany in Philadelphia. The first Colonists, primarily Puritans and other Protestant reformers, did not bring Nicholas traditions to the New World. However, St. Nicholas had a difficult time during the 16th century Protestant Reformation which took a dim view of saints. Initially opposed to Christmas observance, by the 1850s Sunday Schools had discovered that a Christmas tree, Santa and gifts, greatly improved attendance. Although it is almost universally believed that the Dutch brought St. Nicholas to New Amsterdam, scholars find scant evidence of such traditions in Dutch New Netherland.
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