A Visit From Saint Nicholas, was first published in 1823 anonymously. It is in this poem that we have for the first time: stockings hung by the chimney, eight reindeer (named), reindeer and sleigh landing on the roof, a pack full of toys on his back, white beard, a short pipe, and Santa as a “fat elf”.
The chimney and stockings originally, as I said last week, started with the original Saint Nicholas, but in this poem we have the stockings filled with toys as part of Santa’s job (instead the only job). With the older Christian mythology of Bishop Nicholas, all the gifts are left in the stockings hung by the chimney.
Some today some state that the stockings tradition comes from Scandinavia and the older pagan ritual of leaving out shoes for the god Odin. To be sure the origin in Scandinavia, but not for the western Christian ritual. Today if someone comes up with some new electronic gadget the whole world knows about it. The world was a different place more than 1,000 years ago traditions were often similar, but from different origins in different parts of the world. In Scandinavia the shoes (or stockings) were left outside the door (instead of by the chimney) with hay and carrots in them for Odin’s horses and he replaced them with candy. In Turkey, Christians were unaware of the pagan traditions in Scandinavia. In Christian tradition, the stockings were left empty by the chimney, and filled with gifts (such as St. Nicholas’ gift of a dowry) by Saint Nicholas.
Why though was Santa Claus fat, and why did he smoke? Ah yes. Not very politically correct, well not for the 21st century, though very politically correct over 100 years ago. When tobacco was first discovered and brought back to Europe, it was very expensive and smoked only in pipes. Smoking became a status symbol, a sign of wealth and became wide spread. More than just smoking a pipe, the length of the pipe was also indicated a person’s social status in life.
If you were rich, you had your own pipe, a long stemmed pipe (I have one for my Santa collection). The common man did not own his own pipe. The common man would smoke at a tavern or inn (a bar). The innkeeper left pipes on the bar. A customer would pick up one of these pipes, break off the tip, and put his tobacco in the bowl to smoke. When the customer was done, he would lay the pipe on the bar and the next customer would pick it up and break the tip off, following the same steps of the previous customer. So, when Clement Clarke Moore had Santa with a “stump of a pipe” he was identifying Santa with the working class (a very political statement).
Thomas Nast was the first illustrator to give us visual images of Santa Claus, 100’s of images. Nast used a long stem pipe in his images, which made sense for Nast. Nast created an entire factory for Santa to make toys for all the children of the world (which he identified as being at the North Pole). A man who could afford all of this, including all the workers, and could give away the toys free was obviously wealthy. So, Nast used the long pipe to identify Santa as wealthy. Santa was over weight for the same reason, only wealthy people could afford enough food to be overweight.
Another controversy is over Santa’s red and white clothes. On Wikipedia it correctly states that many companies before Coca Cola used their company colors for Santa’s clothes in their advertising, and as such, several companies had red and white Santa’s before coke. Wikipedia goes on to say that for this reason, our red and white Santa is not because of Coca Cola. Well … yes and no. Yes there were several red and white Santa’s before coke. No, because Coca Cola IS the reason for our red and white Santa. Confused yet? It is simple. When the other companies gave us their red and white Santa, there were still other Santa’s in many colors. However, after Haddon Sundblom began doing the Coca Cola advertising paintings in the 1930’s, all the other Santa’s with other colors went out of style and Santa universally became a red and white suit only Santa. I saw an interview with Mr. Sundblom shortly before he died where he was asked why he painted Santa in red and white. Sundblom said he did that because red and white were Coca Cola’s company colors, the advertising firm did not tell him what colors to use and neither did Coca Cola, Sundblom said he chose them himself (Wikipedia got that one wrong too).
My favorite time of the year and my favorite holiday figure, I have researched Santa and Christmas for decades and I never tire of learning new things about the two. I enjoy giving talks about Santa and Christmas more than any other topic I give talks about. Next year, I will pick up where we have left off. For now, I wish that you and the people you share your life with will have a memorable and happy Christmas, filled with good cheer and love.
May God bless you and keep you …
May you always have …
- Haddon ‘Santa Claus’ Sundblom (denverartmatters.wordpress.com)
- A Pictorial History of Santa Claus (publicdomainreview.org)
- The Trafficking of Santa (maggiemcneill.wordpress.com)
- Santa Claus is a Coco Cola Image! (ramanan50.wordpress.com)
- Holiday Stocking History (personalcreations.com)
- Saint Nicholas (streetsofsalem.com)
- Santa’s pipe dream up in smoke as tobacco ban on children’s classic derided (scotsman.com)
- Saint Nicholas – the real Santa Claus (thetemplarknight.com)
- Maybe Santa Was Designed to Glorify Jesus (yahwehssong.com)