Making of Santa Claus II

Program Information

Series: A Moment in Time
Duration: 00:04:56
Year Produced: 2009
Description:

It took 1,500 years and the customs and traditions from many lands to turn the mythical and vaguely-historical figure of Saint Nicholas into the beloved and legendary character we know today as Santa Claus.

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Transcript

Lead: It took 1,500 years and the customs and traditions from many lands to turn the mythical and vaguely-historical figure of Saint Nicholas into the beloved and legendary character we know today as Santa Claus.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: Although the myth of Santa Claus has roots in a real person--Nicholas, an early Catholic bishop from the ancient city of Myra in southwest Asia Minor--our modern-day Santa Claus is actually a blend of religious and secular customs and traditions from various parts of the western world.

Immigrants settling in America from the early 1600s brought various Christmas traditions: the Germans brought decorated trees; the Irish brought the Gaelic custom of lighted window candles and a door wreath of holly; and the Scandinavians brought their tradition of a gift-giving gnome who lived in the attic and puckishly left goodies and gifts in shoes.

The Dutch, though, brought their beloved St. Nicholas as “Sinter Klaas” and the custom of celebrating his feast day on December 6th. On the eve of this day, children were visited by the robe-wearing saint who would leave gifts or treats. English-speaking children became enchanted with this Dutch tradition and transformed Sinter Klaas into “Santa Claus.”

During the nineteenth century two American writers and one notable artist refined the image of Santa Claus, giving him the characteristics we know today. In 1809 Washington Irving published Knickerbocker’s History of New York, and in it he described Saint Nicholas as a jolly man riding over treetops in a wagon filled with presents. In 1823 Clement Clarke Moore published his poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” commonly known as “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” It further elaborated on details of the annual visit by St. Nicholas. Moore’s elfish Saint Nicholas wears a red suit, has twinkling eyes, a red nose and a little round belly. He has a sleigh and eight tiny reindeer and enters the house through the chimney while carrying a bundle of toys on his back. His visit takes place on December 24th.

Finishing touches on Santa Claus were created most notably by cartoonist Thomas Nast. From 1863-1886, Nast did a series of Christmas illustrations for "Harpers Weekly." Nast depicted Santa with a red suit and white beard, and he became more life-size and plump. He had a workshop and home at the North Pole where he kept the infamous list which he checked more than once.

In the twentieth century, details such as Mrs. Claus and the geographically perceptive red-nosed reindeer named Rudolph were added, and the whole enterprise became part of a giant commercialized imperative compelling parents and children into a breathless and quite profitable anticipation of the arrival of Santa Claus.

Research by Ann Johnson, at the University of Richmond, this is Dan Roberts.