Living the Santa Claus dream
The story of Santa Claus began in New York City in the Nineteenth Century. Father Christmas, as many of us still call him, was the creation of three Americans- Washington Irving who was a writer, Clement Clarke Moore who was a poet and Thomas Nash, an illustrator. These creators gave Santa Claus the popularity he enjoys in virtually all corners of the world today.
Before these men uplifted Santa, the then colonial America viewed the celebration of Christmas with suspicion and had little to do with it. The Quakers and Puritans did not celebrate it at all. The State of Massachusetts passed a law in 1659 that forbade observation as a holiday. There was a strict observation of the law and it was enforced for 22 years. And Christmas was not accepted as a legal holiday in America until the middle of the 19th Century
Although the Americans did not approve of the holidays, the Dutch who were settling on Manhattan were keen observers. And with their coming to America came the revival of Saint Nicolas (Sint Nicklass or Sinta Claes) in Dutch in the late 19th Century as a symbol of anti-British and evidence of American patriotism, as many saw St. Nicholas as the patron saint of New York City.
In 1809, Washington Irving wrote a funny fictional history of New York City. Irving’s writing began what was called “The Great Saint Nicholas Renaissance.”
And when Irving dealt with his own Saint Nicholas, he mentioned the saint 25 times in the work and Irving’s Saint Nicholas was no longer the thin Bishop who denied himself of the luxuries of life. He has become a man of means who wore a broad brimmed hat and big pair of pants. He smoked a pipe. He rode in a wagon that was loaded with presents he gave to children every year.
When Clement wrote A Visit From Saint Nicholas in 1822, he maintained the same image that Irving has ascribed to Santa. However, Moore’s Santa has exchanged his wagon for a sled pulled by a reindeer. But Moore’s work which came 13 years after Irving set out to make Father Christmas a universal phenomenon, has grown fatter, maybe encouraged by the acceptance; Moore is quoted to have said that: “He had a broad face and a little round belly that shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly.
He was a chubby and plump, he was a right jolly old elf/ And I laughed in spite of myself.”
Even in Moore’s time, our information said, Santa was still not the fashionable do-gooder we see today. He was a dowdy Father Christmas who could not care about his appearance. He was dressed in fur from head to toe and his clothes were stained with ashes and soot.
Nast was not happy with this image, so he dressed him in the style that he wears to this day. The Cartoonist was the first to draw the modern Santa Claus and his original picture was made public in the 1860s. The picture showed a very short and fat Saint Nicholas perched on the top of a chimney, his reindeer and sled packed nearby.
However, Nast saw that instead of all fur that the Father Christmas wore satin trousers and jacket trimmed with ermine. He now wore boots, a wide black belt and tasseled cap. The drawing was reported to have thrilled children so much that there has not been any attempt to change his dressing again.
But added to the good of Santa is that as he lives from one century to the next, Santa Claus has moved with the times. One notable change that has been observed is his health consciousness-he has lost considerable weight as he observed fellow Americans and the world in general these days. He has grown taller, leaving his elfin height behind to look like normal human beings.
His concern for the environment has since been noted, too, as one article pointed out that since the 1960s, that he has chosen of his own accord to trim his clothes with fake furs instead of ermine. He wears boots made of vinyl instead of leather.
Aside the earlier rejections he suffered in America, Father Christmas’ journey to acceptance was not always smooth; at some point the very idea of the Santa was put under analysis by behaviourists such as psychologists, psychiatrists and sociologists. After one such critical analysis, a psychiatrist came up with the opinion that Santa was an “incorrigible dreamer” who was a menace to mankind. He observed that Santa had “unresolved” Oedipal complex. That was in 1965.
After a research project in 1976, two university students said that he was a peace maker, cultural landmark and surrogate God figure. But then, they went on and called him an archetypal capitalist who is controlling and distributing materials not made by his hands.
Children’s attitude towards Santa, which was subject to research initially in 1896, was repeated in 1977. It was discovered that while children of the 19th Century were likely to think that Father Christmas had super human powers, the ones who came after did not think so.
The Woman’s Journal we relied on to write this article predicted that legend would be passed on with Santa going back to Europe where he came from to become part of the Christmas tradition or even travel farther; “ It has long reached us in my remote village”, observes a friend. “I can’t imagine Christmas without Santa Claus.”
We could not either. It may be a dream, but Santa Claus makes Christmas the Good Cheer.
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