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On Santa Claus

Ever wonder where the jolly father of Christmas came from?  Well I have! So I turned to Oxford Reference Online which led me to The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature. Below is an excerpt about everyone’s favorite man in red. Happy Holidays to all!

Father Christmas/Santa Claus. Father Christmas (English) or Santa Claus (American) is also referred to as Saint Nicholas (historical figure), Père Noël (French), Sinterklaas (Dutch), Grandfather Frost (Russian), and Kris Kringle (derived from the German Christkindlein, or “Christ Child”). The modern-day Santa Claus is a conglomeration of several traditions. The oldest is Saint Nicholas, a monk born c. 280 in Patara, Turkey, who was canonized during the 9th century for his generosity to the poor. The anniversary of his death, 6 December , marks the feast day celebrating his work, which gradually became an integral part of holiday festivities. This celebration is to be distinguished from the festival of Christ’s birth. In the early days of Christianity the birth was celebrated on various days in December and January . In the 5th century the date of 25 December was set by the Western Church and absorbed other pagan winter festivals. Under the name “Diedrich Knickerbocker,” Washington Irving wrote A History of New York in 1809, acknowledging Saint Nicholas as the patron saint of New York. Clement Clarke Moore’s poem “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” originally intended only for his three daughters, was published in 1823. Also known today as “ ’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” the poem helped to establish a contemporary vision of Saint Nicholas as “chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf.” Moore also created and named Santa’s eight sleigh-pulling reindeer. From 1863 to 1886 in annual illustrations for Harper’s Weekly, Thomas Nast popularized Moore’s portrayal. Starting in the 1930s, Coca-Cola illustrator Haddon Sundblom promoted the contemporary image of Santa Claus in the company’s advertising. Both Nast and Sundblom drew on Moore’s description of the holiday character for artistic inspiration. In 1939 Robert L. May, a copywriter for Montgomery Ward, wrote the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Over 6 million copies were distributed, many free of charge, in its first two published releases. The reindeer gained further fame from the 1949 song written by Johnny Marks and sung by Gene Autry, and from the 1964 television movie narrated by Burl Ives. Santa Claus himself gained Hollywood fame in the 1947 movie Miracle on 34th Street.

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