Monday, December 14, 2009
Our VIP for this week is Santa Claus, the old, well-rounded man who brings gifts to children at Christmas time. This legendary man has been portrayed for a long time as a stout, white-bearded man in a red, fur-trimmed suit. This legend is popular mostly in the United States. There was once a real person named Saint Nicholas. Historians have little information about him but say that he was probably born in Patara in the area now known as Turkey. He became a priest at age 19 and served as bishop in a village near Patara. He died in the A.D. 300's. The legend tells us that Saint Nicholas helped a poor nobleman with three daughters. The nobleman was too poor to provide a dowry to any of his daughters; therefore, no men wanted to marry them. A dowry is money or property provided by the bride's family to the bride, groom or groom's family when the couple marries. According to the legend, Saint Nicholas gave three bags of money to the nobleman by throwing them through an open window in the nobleman's house - and fell into some stockings hung by the fireplace to dry. The girls then had dowries and were able to marry. The legend of Saint Nicholas as a man who brings gifts may have originated with this story. Before Christianity began, there was a custom of giving gifts on a certain winter day. Saint Nicholas became a symbol of that custom among Christians. Non-religious characters were substituted for Saint Nicholas during the Reformation in the 1500's. Father Christmas replaced him in England, Pere Noel in France, and Weihnachtsmann in Germany. Saint Nicholas was especially popular in the Netherlands. The first Dutch settlers to sail to America came in a ship with a figure of Saint Nicholas on the front of it. The American Dutch kept their custom of celebrating the saint's feast day on December 6 and told their children that the saint brought gifts on Saint Nicholas Eve. English settlers adopted the customs and traditions of Saint Nicholas, and their children turned the Dutch name for the saint, Sinterklaas, into Santy Claus or Santa Claus by speaking it quickly and with great excitement. Until the 1800's, Saint Nicholas was pictured as a tall, thin stately man who wore a bishop's robe and rode a white horse. In 1809 a book entitled Knickerbocker's History of New York was published by the American author Washington Irving. In his book, Irving described Saint Nicholas as a stout, jolly man in a broad-brimmed hat and huge breeches, carrying a long pipe. This Saint Nicholas rode in a wagon through the air and put gifts in children's stockings. On December 23, 1823, the familiar poem starting "'Twas the night before Christmas" was printed in the Troy (NY) Sentinel. It was entitled "An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas." In this poem, written by either Clement Clarke Moore or Henry Livingston, Saint Nicholas is a stout, jolly man with a red nose and twinkling eyes, wearing a suit trimmed with fur and riding in a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer. In the poem, Saint Nicholas comes on Christmas Eve. An American cartoonist by the name of Thomas Nast completed the picture of the modern-day Santa Claus. His drawings, printed in the Harper's Weekly between 1863 and 1886, showed Santa with a white beard in various poses: working in his workshop, driving a sleigh pulled by reindeer, or placing toys in stockings by a fireplace. Many people in the world are familiar with the legend of Santa Claus, but he is a tradition mainly in America. Facts for this post came from an article by Robert J. Myers in World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 17, pp 113-114.