Here Comes Santa Claus

When the Dutch settled in New York in 1624, they brought  their holiday custom of a gift-giving Sinterklaas, a fictitious figure based on Saint Nicholas, a first century AD Greek bishop known for his love of children and his generous gifts to those in need. In 1804 the New York Historical Society chose Saint Nicolas as their patron saint, and encouraged its members to exchange gifts at Christmas in the Dutch Sinterklaas tradition. In 1809 author Washington Irving spun a tale describing Saint Nicholas riding over the trees in a wagon, in his popular book A History of New York. Twelve years later two poems gained wide popularity.  “Old Santeclaus with Much Delight” was an illustrated children’s poem featuring an imaginary person who dressed in fur and traveled about in a sleigh pulled by one reindeer. The second poem, which later became better known as “The Night Before Christmas,” portrayed Saint Nicolas as an elf with a miniature sleigh pulled by eight reindeer.  By the mid-1840s Americans were associating “Santa Claus” with gift-giving at Christmas.  The gold discovery in 1848 lured thousands of Americans to California, who took the holiday cultural icon west. By the early 1900s the image of Santa had been standardized as a bearded, plump, jolly man who wore a red suit with white fur trim.


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