The History of Santa Claus: Christmas 2012
The American version of the Santa Claus figure received its inspiration and its name from the Dutch legend of Sinter Klaas, brought by settlers to New York in the 17th century.
The Beginning of the American Santa
As early as 1773 the name appeared in the American press as "St. A Claus," but it was the popular author Washington Irving who gave Americans their first detailed information about the Dutch version of Saint Nicholas. In his History of New York, published in 1809 under the pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker, Irving described the arrival of the saint on horseback (unaccompanied by Black Peter) each Eve of Saint Nicholas.
The American image of Santa Claus was further elaborated by illustrator Thomas Nast, who depicted a rotund Santa for Christmas issues of Harper's magazine from the 1860s to the 1880s. Nast added such details as Santa's workshop at the North Pole and Santa's list of the good and bad children of the world.
Coca-Cola and Santa Claus
A 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 that introduced and made the red Santa Suits an icon. In modern versions of the Santa Claus legend, only his toy-shop workers are elves. Rudolph, the ninth reindeer, with a red and shiny nose, was invented in 1939 by an advertising writer for the Montgomery Ward Company.
Santa Claus and Christmas
At about the same time Nicholas lived, Pope Julius I decided to establish a date for the celebration of the birth of Jesus. As the actual time of year for this event was unknown, the Pope decided to assign the holiday to December 25th. There had long been a pagan midwinter festival at this time of year and the Pope hoped to use the holiday to christianize the celebrations.
Eventually, Saint Nicholas's feast day also became associated with December 25th and his connection with Christmas was established. A tradition developed that he would supposedly visit homes on Christmas Eve and children would place nuts, apples, sweets and other items around the house to welcome him. As the reformation took a hold of much of Europe, however, the popularity of St. Nicholas dropped in most Protestant countries, with the exception of Holland where he was referred to as "Sinter Klaas."
After this tradition came to the United States, "Sinter Klass" would eventually be corrupted to "Sancte Claus."As time went by, more and more was added to the Santa Claus legend. Thomas Nast, a 19th century cartoonist, did a series of drawings for Harper's Weekly. Nash's vision of Santa had him living at the North Pole. Nash also gave him a workshop for building toys and a large book filled with the names of children who had been naughty or nice.
Santa has been very popular in the 20th and 21st centuries but in the past few years he has had a few detractors. In January of 1990, an article appeared in Spy magazine under the name of Richard Waller that was skeptical of Santa's capability to do what he supposedly does each Christmas Eve. The article, after its initial appearance in the magazine, was republished innumerable times on the web and emailed all over the Internet.
Among other things Waller calculated that Santa, moving from east to west around the globe, could use the different time zones and the rotation of the Earth to extend his night for as long as 31 hours. Since he needs to visit approximately 92 million households (the number of Christian children divided by the average number of children per household) according to Waller this means he needs to travel approximately 75.5 million miles. The article states that the distance divided by the time means Santa's sleigh must move at a speed of 650 miles per second, 3000 times faster than the speed of sound, to complete its route.
Waller then went on to calculate that if every child gets a two-pound present, Santa's sleigh must weigh about 321,300 tons. He then ups that figure to 353,430 tons to account for some 214,200 reindeer he thinks would be needed to pull that heavy a sleigh.
Other writers note that Christmas does not come on the same day in all countries. Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas a few days after December 25th which means Santa gets at least two shots a year to complete his mission. One writer noted that the number of stops needed in the calculation is incorrect since dividing the total number of children by the average number of children per household to get the number of stops does not consider families where there are no children at all.