Ahh. It’s that time of year again for holiday cheer and fun. Parties, presents, the smell of pine in the home, eggnog, shopping and expressing our love for those whom touch our lives throughout the year.
In my youth the Christmas buzz began for me on St. Nicolas day, December 6th. My siblings and I would eagerly awake to a stocking filled with candy. A tradition I let go wayside, but my brother still continues. Every December 6th, his wife fills his stocking with goodies. Nowadays, more gift cards than candy but his boyish excitement still lingers. Jealous I am. So what is St. Nick’s day, and who is St. Nick?
It’s largely a Catholic holiday and gives tribute to Nicholas of Myra (now in Turkey), a Greek saint that was the patron saint of Russia. But I’m not Greek or Russian, so why did my family celebrate this holiday? According to Wikipedia, the tradition of Saint Nicholas Day, is a festival for children in many countries in Europe related to the surviving legends of the saint. More specifically his reputation as a bringer of gifts. He is also the patron saint of seafarers. The American Santa Claus, as well as the Anglo-Canadian and British Father Christmas, derive from these legends. Dutch Immigrants are largely responsible for bringing the tale and image of St. Nickolas, Sinter Klaas in Dutch, to New York. In 1823, one notable Dutch-American, Clement Clarke Moore, furthered the image of St. Nick in his poem “The Night Before Christmas.” Sinter Klaas now had an elf like appearance, named reindeer, jolly laughs, and delivered gifts through the chimney.
So is St. Nick the pre-Santa Claus, the Father Christmas, good old Kris Kringle ? And how did the image of the jolly old Santa come to be? While Saint Nicholas is portrayed as thin man wearing bishop’s robes, today Santa Claus is generally depicted as a plump, white- bearded man wearing a red coat with a white-collar and cuffs, red trousers, a black belt and boots. This image became popular in the United States and Canada in the 19th century due to the influence of caricaturist Thomas Nast. During the Civil War, Nast, a political cartoonist, drew Santa Claus for Harper’s Weekly. Santa was shown as a small elf-like figure who supported the Union. Nast continued to draw Santa for 30 years and along the way changed the color of his coat from tan to red with white trim, from his interpretation of St. Nick. Coca-Cola picked up on these drawings and adopted the jolly old Santa for its advertising in the 1930’s. “Thirst Knows No Season,” Coke claimed and the image of Santa was set. Humm. The modern Santa is an advertising ploy?
Another marketing addition to our Christmas iconography was the invention of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer by Robert May of the Montgomery Ward Company. He created a poem about Rudolph and handed it out to all the company’s customers. Prior to 1939 there were only eight reindeer.
Of course Santa can’t live at the North Pole alone, he needed a compassionate partner. Mrs. Claus doesn’t have roots in European folklore, she was originally the creation of American authors. A poem called “Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride” written by Katharine Lee Bates popularized the image of Mrs. Claus.
December 6th flew by this year as in last, but next year I’ll make a point to put a little something in my family’s Christmas stockings to signal the beginning of the season.
Have a happy healthy Christmas, and always a safe one. I’ll blog again after the holidays.