Sunday, December 7, 2008

"Jolly Old Elf"

In 1809 Washington Irving introduced the first American depiction of Santa Claus in Knickerbocker's History of New York. Irving's Santa is of Dutch origin, with baggy breeches, broad brimmed hat, magical long pipe and a habit of laying his finger alongside his nose and winking.
Much of modern-day Santa Claus lore, including the reindeer-drawn sleigh, originated in America. Dr. Clement Clarke Moore composed, The Night Before Christmas, in 1822, to read to his children on Christmas Eve. The poem might have remained privately in the Moore family if a friend had not mailed a copy of it to a newspaper and it quickly became part of the Santa legend.
It was in America that Santa put on weight. The rosy-cheeked, roly-poly Santa is credited to the influential nineteenth-century cartoonist, Thomas Nast. From 1863 until 1886, Nast created a series of Christmas drawings for Harper's Weekly. These drawings, executed over twenty years, exhibit a gradual evolution in Santa from the pudgy, diminutive, elf-like creature of Dr. Moore's immortal poem to the bearded, potbellied, life-size bell ringer familiar on street corners across America today. Nast's cartoons also showed the world how Santa spent his entire year constructing toys, checking on children's behavior, and reading their requests for special gifts. His images were incorporated into the Santa lore.
These legends from around the world give us the Santa Claus of today.


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