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Santa Claus / Santa Clause

St. Nicholas, the patron saint of boys. He is said to have been bishop of Myra, and to have died in the year 326. The young were universally taught to revere him, and the popular fiction which represents him as the bearer of presents to children on Christmas eve is well known. He is the Santa Claus (or Klaus) of the Dutch. St. Nicholas is said to have supplied three destitute maidens with marriage portions by secretly leaving money at their window, and as his day occurred just before Christmas, he thus was made the purveyor of the gifts of the season to all children in Flanders and Holland who put out their shoe or stocking in the confidence that Santa Klaus, or Knecht Clobes, as they call him, will put a prize for good conduct before morning. Another legend described the saint as having brought three murdered children to life again; and this rendered him the patron of boys, especially school-boys. β€” Webster, 1882

The Christmas exercises at the Congregational church were very fine. The singing and speaking were excellent and the church was crowded. Santa Claus was very liberal, the tree being loaded down with useful presents. -Kingsbury County Independent, December 29, 1893

In the handwritten manuscript for On the Banks of Plum Creek, Laura Ingalls Wilder tells the “Christmas horses” story a little differently than in the published version.

Pa asks Laura and Mary if they would be willing to go without any presents if Santa Claus will bring them a team of horses. When Christmas comes and Pa takes them to see the horses, Mary and Laura look at them quietly. Laura points out that Santa Claus couldn’t have brought the horses because she has seen Mr. Johnson driving them in the past. Pa is surprised that Laura “would know them,” and Ma says “it’s time to explain.”

Pa says that even with a team of reindeer, Santa Claus couldn’t get to every house in one night, and while he exists and leaves presents for very little children, everyone else must help him out by providing presents for each other. Since Pa has said that Santa exists, Laura asks where Santa lives, and at this point Pa needs Ma’s help. Ma sends Pa in to his breakfast and tells Laura and Mary that “Santa Claus is the spirit or feeling of Christmas and can come through a closed door or down a chimney or even a stovepipe and be everywhere at once… that people all over the world think kind thoughts on Christmas and show their thoughts by gifts.” Both big and little gifts mean the same thing – a loving thought.

From The American version of the Santa Claus figure received its inspiration and its name from the Dutch legend of Sinter Klaas, brought by settlers to New York in the 17th century.

As early as 1773 the name appeared in the American press as “St. A Claus,” but it was the popular author Washington Irving who gave Americans their first detailed information about the Dutch version of Saint Nicholas. In his History of New York, published in 1809 under the pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker, Irving described the arrival of the saint on horseback (or pack mule in Indian Territory…) each Eve of Saint Nicholas.

This Dutch-American Saint Nick achieved his fully Americanized form in 1823 in the poem “A Visit From Saint Nicholas,” more commonly known as “The Night Before Christmas,” written by Clement Clarke Moore. Moore included such details as the names of the reindeer; Santa Claus’s laughs, winks, and nods; and the method by which Saint Nicholas – referred to as an elf – goes back up the chimney.

Where Laura and Mary Ingalls first heard the story of Santa Claus and his reindeer is unknown, but this Christmas story (see On the Banks of Plum Creek, Chapters 12 and 13, “The Christmas Horses” and β€œ”Merry Christmas”) always makes me a little sad, and I’m probably not the only mother who skirted Wilder’s explanation of Santa Claus when first reading the book aloud to her own children. In the published version, Laura and Mary are supposedly six and seven years old this first Christmas at Plum Creek, and I always wished they had been allowed to be two “of the very little children” a while longer.


Santa Claus / Santa Clause (BW 4; LHP 19; BPC 12-13; SSL 19, 21; TLW 11, 16, 18; THGY 25; PG)
     coming down the chimney (BPC 12)
     remembering Mr. Edwards meeting Santa Claus (LTP 19)
     travels with a pack mule in the West (LHP 19)