Wednesday, December 12, 2012

History of the American Christmas by Paty Jager

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.

My favorite part of Christmas is giving and because of that anyone who reads this post can go to Smashwords and download for free with this coupon number HN52E my recent release Secrets of a Mayan Moon. This coupon is only good through Dec. 20th. 

Merry Christmas!


  1. Paty, thanks for the gift. You're right, the fun of Christmas is giving...but it's also fun to receive great gifts like yours. Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  2. Caroline, I love it when a friend or family member is blown away by the gift I give. It makes the search for just the right thing so much fun. And you are welcome! Merry Christmas!

  3. Absolutely loved this Christmas history trivia, Paty! Such fun times. My upcoming YA is partly set in Puritan times so I knew about the no-Christmas deal. What a snore life must have been back then LOL.

  4. Thanks Tanya! I agree. I don't think I would have mad ea good Puritan! LOL

  5. Thanks, Paty, for the history of the American Chritmas. The facts were not familiar to me, at least most of them weren't I'd never heard that about Abraham Lincoln. Very interesting all around. I enjoyed it.

  6. I loved the history of Christmas giving and Santa! Great post, Paty.

  7. Thanks Celia, I was trying to think of something and started googling American Christmas and found these tidbits.

    Hi Diana! Thanks for stopping in!

  8. I really enjoyed reading the history of gift giving and Christmas. We don't participate too much in the Christmas ritual anymore, but I do make fruitcakes and we give them to people in the community who've been good to us. For some reason this recipe that my mother-in-law gave me is different from most and people beg me for them. :)

    Happy holidays to you and your family. :)

  9. As always, I'm appreciative of your research. It is interesting that the holiday was declared after the use of Santa Claus during the Civil War. It's also interesting that it did not become a religious holiday until later. It seems that symbols, no matter where they originate, take on meaning as people need them to do so. I'm not sure if I like that or not. But it is interesting.

  10. People have celebrated Christmas as a religious event longer than it was a secular holiday, Maggie. Catholics held mass, for instance - hence Christmas - and even now, Christmas Eve is the time for parties and gifts in French Canadian households. Christmas Day is for services (and Rolaids).

    Calvinists, on the other hand, forbade the celebration of Christmas... maybe because it's not really Christ's birthday except by papal designation.

    One of the reasons that Christmas was designated December 25 was to replace the Festival of Saturnalia when the Roman Empire converted. Most cultures have a mid-winter festival tied into invoking the return of longer days.

    My mother's family is English and, with the exception of the Cromwell years, the Brits have celebrated Christmas for centuries. I had no idea that it wasn't national holiday in the US until 1870.

    Thanks Paty for making sure I learned something new today.

  11. Paisley, thank you for stopping in. MY mom also made a fruit cake that people asked for. I think it was because it was soaked in rum, but who knows. Have a Merry Christmas!

    Maggie, this is only what I garnered about an American Christmas. But It is interesting how it came about here. Thanks for stopping in!

    Alison, Christmas has been celebrated a long time. But this new country had to mix the cultures and come up with their own take on it, I guess.

  12. Paty, thanks for sharing the interesting Christmas history. It's amazing how customs change down the centuries. Much as I dislike the commercialization of Christmas nowadays, I would not want to live in those Puritan days. Such dour people!

    Thanks for the gift of your book. Merry Christmas!

  13. Hi Lyn! I agree, I like the way Christmas is celebrated now. With religion and fun! You're welcome!


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