In my innocent naivete, I believed the figure would appear to be the real thing, so to speak, thus proving that I had a very good relationship with the old fellow.
My mother had snapped the photo with her trusty Kodak, the model in which the lens was attached by accordian-pleated fabric. It was shot in the days of black and white film, and posed on our front lawn because flash photography was still in the future, at least for amateurs like my mother. My family had a winter home in Coral Gables, which explains why I posed in a short-sleeved summer dress against a background of a fully leafed-out tree.
If you are wondering how Santa with his reindeer managed to fly over Miami rooftops, I will tell you that he didn’t. He flew with his sack of toys in a blimp. Trust me. I saw the blimp.
Today’s Santa looks the same as he did back in the mid-’30s: rotund, rosy cheeked, white bearded and dressed in a red suit trimmed with white fur. But t’was not always thus. The image so beloved by generations has evolved from that of a stately, not rotund, elderly gentleman attired in the robes of a Catholic bishop. There was one similarity, though. He sported a long white beard.
Careful research has led me to believe, no, has convinced me, that the legend of the kindly old gentleman who loves to visit young children at holiday time began with St. Nicholas, a bishop of Myra, who was born in Lycia, now Turkey, in the third century. His reputation for kindness and charity spread across the Byzantine by the sixth century and eventually spread to Europe some three hundred years later. By this time, children were leaving their shoes by their beds, on window sills and on hearths, to be filled with nuts and candy.
So when did St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra, become Santa Claus, and when did he commence bringing gifts on Christmas Day, instead of his birthday, Dec. 6?
I found a credible explanation in what I believe to be a reliable source, St. Nicholas Center.
Being a Christian saint, Nicholas suffered a setback in 16th century England, when the Reformation movement put saints on the back burner. Traditions and customs that prevailed in the rest of Europe did not survive in that Protestant country. The custom of holiday gift giving continued, though not on Dec. 6, but at New Year’s.
One might assume that Puritans who fled England to enjoy religious freedom in the New World might have brought the St. Nicholas tradition with them. But they did not. Nor did the Dutch who followed. He was likely introduced by German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania.
The English custom of gift-giving at New Year's lasted in the colonies as late as 1847.
We find references to St. Nicholas in 1804, when John Pintard, founder of the New York Historical Society, promoted St. Nicholas as patron saint of the society and the city. Five years later, American author Washington Irving wrote of a jolly old gentleman, rather than saintly bishop, in “Knickerbocker’s History of New York.” The image was not of a stately character in ecclesiastical robes, but of a much less regal looking pipe-smoker. It was in this flight of fancy that St. Nicholas, laden with gifts, was said to come down chimneys. The first American image of St. Nicholas, created by artist Alexander Anderson, depicted him placing gifts in stockings hung on a mantle.
In 1821, the book “A Children’s Friend,” morphed St. Nicholas into “Sante Claus,” who arrived in a reindeer-driven sleigh to reward well-behaved children with gifts. He remonstrated bad behavior with “long, black birchen rods,” with instructions to parents to use when the occasion called for punishment.
The updated version of Santa (now spelled with an a) arrived on Christmas Eve instead of Dec. 6.
The Santa Claus beloved by today’s generation was introduced by Clement Clark Moore, composer in 1823 of “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” better known as “The Night Before Christmas.” It has been argued that the poem was actually penned by poet Henry Livingston in 1807 or 1808. Whoever wrote the poem was the inspiration for Thomas Nast, a cartoonist whose drawings were published in Harper’s Weekly during the Civil War. A bit of Santa trivia: Santa was a Union supporter and was credited by President Abraham Lincoln for boosting the morale of Union troops.
Nast’s Santa was the first to appear in a red suit that stretched across an enormous belly. Subsequent artists offered varying versions, and by the end of the 1920s the image was more or less standardized by illustrators N.C. Wyeth and Norman Rockwell. In 1931, he was introduced in Coca-Cola ads, thus becoming commercialized in our culture.
The American version of Santa Claus has made its way around the world, but for some, St. Nicholas still makes an appearance at Christmas.
To quote the St. Nicholas Center “There is a growing interest in reclaiming the original saint in the United States to help restore a spiritual dimension to this festive time. For indeed, St. Nicholas, lover of the poor and patron saint of children, is a model of how Christians are meant to live. A bishop, Nicholas put Jesus Christ at the center of his life, his ministry, his entire existence. Families, churches, and schools are embracing the St. Nicholas traditions as one way to claim the true center of Christmas: the birth of Jesus. Such a focus helps restore balance to increasingly materialistic and stress-filled Advent and Christmas seasons.”
The origin of Santa Claus was provided by St. Nicholas Center. For more information and facts, download http://stnicholascenter.org/pages/origin-of-santa/ |