News From Terre Haute, Indiana


December 2, 2012

HISTORICAL TREASURE: The evolution of jolly old St. Nick

The idea of Santa Claus has existed for hundreds of years. Causing confusion is the fact that this beloved visitor has appeared through the years in numerous forms and with different names.

In England, he is called Father Christmas. In France, he is Pere Noel. Kris Kringle is native to Germany. Dutch children call him Sinterklaas. But the Santa Claus that American children know and love today was born in New York City on Dec. 24, 1822. It was on that day that Clement Clark Moore wrote the famous words “The Night Before Christmas” as a Christmas gift to his children. The poem first appeared in book form in 1848 with drawings by T.C. Boyd.

 It was in America that Santa put on weight. The original St. Nicholas had been a tall, slender, elegant bishop, which was the image perpetuated for centuries. The rosy-cheeked, roly-poly Santa is credited to the influential 19th century cartoonist, Thomas Nast, who created a series of Christmas drawings for Harper’s Weekly. These drawings, executed over 20 years, exhibit a gradual change from the diminutive, elf-like creature of Dr. Moore’s poem to the bearded, potbellied figure seen across America today.

 Pictured is the earliest Santa in the Historical Museum’s collection. He was roly-poly, dated from the turn of the century, made of papier mâché, hand-painted, and came from the home of John Biel. There is no trademark on this Santa, so it may have been made in the United States or Germany. It is currently on display in the window of the museum’s toy shop on the second floor.

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