A true American Christmas is a convergence of many nationalities, traditions, and the work of authors and illustrators.
In American in the 1600’s the Puritans made it illegal to mention St. Nicholas and people weren’t allowed to exchange gifts, light a candle, or sing Christmas carols.
The Dutch immigrants in the 17th century brought with them the legend of Sinter Klaas. It was 1773 when the first Santa appeared in the media as St. A. Claus.
|public domain photo|
In 1804 The New York Historical Society was founded with St. Nicholas as its patron saint and the members engaged in the Dutch practice of gift giving.
Washington Irving under the pseudonym, Diedrick Knickerbocker, wrote the book, “A History of New York” in 1809. In the book he had Saint Nicholas riding a horse down the street. Later, in 1812 he revised the book with Santa riding a wagon over the tops of trees.
A poem titled “Santa Claus” by William Gilley in 1821 noted Santa was dressed in fur and drove a sleigh drawn by one reindeer.
Dentist Clement Clarke Moore has been attributed to the 1822 poem “An account of a Visit From Saint Nicholas” also known as “The Night Before Christmas” In this poem Santa is portrayed as an elf with a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer. The reindeer are named and attributes are given to Santa that later end up in many drawings, sketches and paintings of the jolly old elf.
The first merchant to commercialize Santa was J.W. Parkinson of Philadelphia. in 1841 he hired a man to dress up in a “Criscringle” outfit and climb the chimney of his store.
In 1863 illustrator Thomas Nast started creating images of Santa for the Christmas editions of Harpers Magazine. He continued to entertain Americans with his images through the 1890’s.
The first example of psychological warfare was instituted by Abraham Lincoln in the 1860’s when he commissioned Nast to create drawings of Santa supporting the union soldiers. In the early half of the 1800’s the Northern states didn’t believe in celebrating Christmas, but the Southern states celebrated the event as part of the Social Season with Alabama in 1836 and Louisiana and Arkansas in 1838 making Christmas a legal holiday.
In 1870 Christmas became an American Federal Holiday. At that time, all Americans embraced Christmas changing it from a day of partying or silence to a family and religious day when peace and nostalgia were the themes. It wasn’t until the 20th century that the holiday became commercialized to the extent it is today.
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