FAIRHURST examines the background to Santa
Claus and explalns his origins and how he
developed into the world-wide figure he
the beginning of the 19th century, Father Christmas
was pictured as a tall, thin stately man who
wore a bishop's robe and rode a white horse.
In 1809, Washington Irving, the creator of Rip
Van Winkle, published 'Knickerbockers History
of New York' in which St. Nicholas was described
as a stout, jolly man who wore a broad brimmed
hat, huge breeches and smoked a long pipe. Irving's
St. Nicholas rode over tree tops in a wagon
and filled children's stockings with presents.
Clement Clarke Moore ( 1779 - 1863) added to
the picture in a ballad written for his children
which is now well known and begins, 'Twas the
night before Christmas '
Moore was a Hebrew scholar and Professor of
Greek and Oriental Literature at New York's
General Theological seminary from 1821 to 1850.
He is said to have composed 'A Visit from St.
Nicholas' to amuse his children at Christmas.
In 1822 and, unknown to him, a house guest copied
it and gave it to the press. The poem was first
published anonymously in the New York Sentinel
on December 23, 1823. In Moore's poem, St. Nicholas
appears as a stout, jolly man with twinkling
eyes and a red nose, riding a sledge pulled
by eight reindeer. Thomas Nast, an American
cartoonist, completed the present day image
of Father Christmas in a series of drawings
for Harpers Weekly Magazine between 1863 and
1886.The drawings show Santa Claus with a white
beard, working in his shop, driving a sleigh
led by reindeer and placing Christmas presents
in stockings over a fireplace.
in Holland, Father Christmas's name had become
Sinter Klaus, and when Dutch settlers arrived
in the New World and founded New Amsterdam (later
renamed New York), they took their Sinter Klaus
customs with them and named their first church
after him. The Americanised pronunciation of
Sinter Klaus became Santa Claus and this became
established as his name. By the 1870's, this
benign figure had arrived in Britain and was
quickly merged with Father Christmas.
Although today people in many parts of the
world are familiar with Santa Claus, he is primarily
an American invention. In the past Santa Claus
had dressed in a whole range of different colours,
wearing a long cloak and heavy boots. Clement
Moore had described him as being 'dressed all
in fur from his head to his foot and his clothes
were all tarnished with ashes and soot'.
this was to change in the 1930's with a Coca
Cola promotion in which Haddon Sundbloom redesigned
Santa Claus. His colours now were specially
chosen to match the trade colours of Coca Cola
being red and white. A thigh -long red tunic
with white trimmings was held in place by a
broad black belt. On his head was a floppy nightcap,
red with white what edgings and a white pom
-pom and to complete the picture his red trousers
were tucked into a pair of heavy black boots.
From that time on, the western world's Santa
followed Sundbloom's design and is now firmly
established in the hearts and minds of people
Coming down the chimney is a curious way to
enter a house and Moore's poem is the direct
source. He wrote 'And there on a twinkling I
heard on the roof, The prancing and pawing of
each little hoof, As I drew in my head and was
turning around Down the chimney St Nicholas
came with a bound'.
Moore was a scholar well versed in anthropology
and had researched the ancient myths and legends
of Christmas before writing his poem. He knew
that the Lapland dwellings were small, igloo-shaped
tents covered with reindeer skins and sunk into
the ground with the entrance being a hole in
the roof to allow the smoke from the fire to
escape. In the poem, when Santa Claus arrives,
his reindeer can be heard on the roof which
covers the Lapp's abode. He enters with a single
bound in the manner of someone leaping down
the chimney. Before Moore's poem, Father Christmas
either walked or rode a white horse. Moore would
also know of a Finnish legend concerning Old
Man Winter. The belief was that with winter's
onset this mythical creature would drive his
reindeer down from the mountains bringing snow
with him. There is a link here with reality
for the fierce mountain winter would drive the
reindeer down into the plains to seek shelter.
Moore incorporated this into his ballad, naming
the eight reindeer. The number eight was chosen
because Odin, a Teutonic god, rode an eight-legged
horse. Once the poem was published and became
immensely popular, Santa Claus's transport would,
forever after, be a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer.
Moore's romantic image will doubtless last for
as long as Christmas is celebrated.