Each country has their own version of Santa Claus, and each of those has their own history and traditions that center around Santa Claus and Christmas. The American version of the Santa Claus has its own unique history.
Santa Claus received its inspiration and its name from the Dutch legend of Sinter Klaas. Sinter Klaas was brought by settlers to New York in the 17th century. So, let’s take a closer look at the history of Santa Claus in America:
The celebration of St. Nicholas, or in Dutch “Sinter Klass” is a tribute to St. Nicholas of Turkey who used his inheritance to help the needy and poor. Several countries honored and celebrated his good works.
As early as 1773 the name appeared in the American press as “St. A Claus.” It was spoken of because the Dutch had a feast and celebration for the patron saint. However, although he was mentioned at the time it was the popular author Washington Irving who gave Americans their first detailed information about the Dutch version of Saint Nicholas. This version was published in his “History of New York,” published in 1809 under the pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker. In this account, Irving described the arrival of the saint on horseback each Eve of Saint Nicholas.
However, even after this, Santa Claus was not yet Santa Claus. An Episcopal minister named Clement Clarke Moore wrote a poem for his children that helped bring along the Dutch-American Saint Nick to his fully Americanized form in 1823. The poem was called, “A Visit From Saint Nicholas” but today is more commonly known as “The Night Before Christmas.”
In this poem, Moore included details such as the names of the reindeer that pulled his sled. He included the mannerisms of Santa Claus, such as that he laughs, winks, and nods. He described the method by which Saint Nicholas, referred to as an elf, returns up the chimney, and how he travels from house to house. A lot of this came form Irving’s work in 1809, however, it did not take as much life until it was in this form. Finally people had a character, an image to put with the idea of a gift giver, now he was jolly, old, and an elf.
However, this poem was not the end; Santa now had formed in the minds of people. Now it was time to put him in real life. The American image of Santa Claus was put on paper by illustrator Thomas Nast in 1860.
Thomas Nast was a political cartoonist, but he also illustrated. He depicted a rotund Santa for Christmas issues of Harper’s magazine from the 1860s to the 1880s to help with commercialization and marketing. It was Nast who added the details like Santa’s workshop at the North Pole and Santa’s list of the good and bad children of the world.
However, the story does not end there; the human-sized version of Santa Claus, rather than the elf of Moore’s poem, was depicted in a series of illustrations for Coca-Cola advertisements introduced in 1931. And so, Santa went from being an elf himself to being a human who is helped by elves.
Santa had eight reindeer created by Moore. However, Rudolph, the ninth reindeer, with a red and shiny nose, was invented in 1939 by an advertising writer for the Montgomery Ward Company.
The American history of Santa Claus is a combination of many different legends and mythical creatures, which was aided by poetry, illustrations, and the lovely little machine we call media,marketing, and more.