How New York invented Santa Claus

It’s not really a stretch for New Yorkers to claim the jolly, red-suited dude as one of our own. “Sinte Klaas” was the nickname Dutch settlers gave St. Nicholas, a serious figure depicted in bishop’s robes celebrated every December 6.

Legend had it that St. Nicholas gave gifts to the poor, and he also rewarded children who had behaved all year.

St. Nicholas evolved closer to the Santa we know now in Chelsea resident Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas.”

Here he’s depicted with a white beard and a sack on his back, climbing down the chimney to fill stockings.

Rather than a big guy in red, St. Nick is elfin, a “little old driver” in a “miniature sleigh” decked all in fur.

He finally became today’s large, red-suited hero thanks to Thomas Nast, the 19th century cartoonist for Harper’s Weekly. In 1863, Nast drew a plump character in a fur-trimmed coat with a stocking cap giving out presents to soldiers.

An 1865 Santa illustration by Nash for Harper’s Weekly has him holding a pipe, that familiar twinkle in his eye.

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9 Responses to “How New York invented Santa Claus”

  1. editrrix Says:

    Thanks for this. I recently read in several places the significance between the St. Nick legends and Manhattan, but your post was the most enlightened reference.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    Thanks! There’s a lot more to it, and the New-York Historical Society has what sounds like a neat exhibit too:

  3. petey Says:

    a good recent book on this topic: The Battle For Christmas
    ( not exclusively about new york, but has lots of new york connection.

  4. Laila Says:

    uhh… i thought it started as a coca cola associated marketing advertisement?

  5. Two New York streets named after Santa Claus « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Here’s more on why New Yorkers can claim Santa as one of our own. […]

  6. Jaredthetourguide Says:

    Happy 200th Birthday, Santa Claus!

    He was born in old New-York City Hall, where Federal Hall is now.

    His birthday was December 6th, and I held the only commemoration of his bi-centennial with a series of tours. It is a long story, so doing a 2.5 hour tour (on foot and by subway) gives plenty of time to tell it. It is an amazing story.

    Did you know that Santa Claus is Patriotic?

    I covered Santa a bit in my “Today in NYC History” Blog on my facebook page “Jared the tourguide” around Dec 5, 6, and 25th. As well as at his birthday page

    It seems that few care or know about Santa even in his 200th year! It is his birthday and we get the presents.

    Santa Claus is almost as important and overlooked and taken for granted as clean water, sewers, air, and electricity. Except those four things are engineered, and Santa is imagined and mythologized, making his story even more over-looked and not taken seriously.

    But Santa’s story is a great example of the wonderful impact that NYC and New Yorkers have made upon the USA and the world for hundreds of years, nay thousands, since we’ve been Manahatta.

  7. Caro Says:

    My grandmother, a resident of Elmhurst, Queens until she died, told me when I was a little girl that Clement Moore wrote “A Visit from St. Nicholas”/”Twas the Night Before Christmas” at his farm in Elmhurst. My aunt just confirmed for me that she want on a school field trip to the farm (dilapidated even back then) as a P.S. 102 student to see the place where the poem was written.

  8. Which city park hosted the first Christmas tree? | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] New York City pioneered so many emblems of the modern Christmas, like the custom of a holiday tree and the red-suited, white-bearded Santa Claus. […]

  9. Merry Christmas 2017 | tugster: a waterblog Says:

    […] knows what an imaginary guy looks like anyhow?  Here’s a mid-19th century view. The Dutch descendants upriver celebrate him this way, from a 2013 tugster […]

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