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Christmas Stories – True or Myths?

This Blog originated from my coming across the home of Virginia the young girl of newspaper fame – Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. I hope that I did not expand it too much to include other Christmas related facts, stories or myths. I got carried away…
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Is There a Santa Claus?
 
Is There a Santa Claus? was the title of a newspaper  editorial in the September 21, 1897, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus“, has become an indelible part of popular Christmas folklore in the United States and Canada. Virginia was eight years old when she wrote the letter. The Editor’s reply:
 
 

“Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS.”

The Night Before Christmas

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 Clement Clarke Moore, Perhaps the best known poem in the English language is “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” or as it’s often called, “The Night Before Christmas
The poem was first published, anonymously, in a newspaper in Troy, New York, on    December 23, 1823. Moore actually did something quite radical by changing some of the traditions such as:
  • Moving gift giving from December 5, (actual eve of St. Nicholas Day to Christmas Eve.
  • He also came up with the concept of “St. Nick” having eight reindeer, each of them with a distinctive name.

A Christmas Carol

The other great work of Christmas literature from the 19th century is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. In writing the tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge, Dickens wanted to comment on greed in Victorian Britain. He also made Christmas a more prominent holiday, and permanently associated himself with Christmas celebrations.
 

Christmas Tree

  • The tradition of the Christmas tree came from Germany, and there are accounts of early 19th century Christmas trees in America. But the custom wasn’t widespread outside German communities.
  • The Christmas tree first gained popularity in British and American society thanks to the husband of Queen Victoria, the German-born Prince Albert. He installed a decorated Christmas tree at Windsor Castle in 1841, and woodcuts of the Royal Family’s tree appeared in London magazines in 1848. Such illustrations, published in America a year later, created the fashionable impression of the Christmas tree in upper class homes.
  • The first Christmas tree in the White House was in 1889, during the presidency of Benjamin Harrison. The Harrison family, including his young grandchildren, decorated the tree with toy soldiers and glass ornaments for their small family gathering.
  • The first electric Christmas tree lights appeared in the 1880s, thanks to an associate of Thomas Edison, but were too costly for most households. Most people in the 1800s lit their Christmas trees with small candles.
                                    Santa Clause Stories (Myths?)
 
                                                              

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The famed American cartoonist Thomas Nast is generally credited as having invented the modern depiction of Santa Claus
 
 
 
  • For the Christmas season he was assigned to draw the magazine’s cover, and legend has it that Lincoln himself requested a depiction of Santa Claus visiting Union troops.
  • The resulting cover, from the Harper’s Weekly dated January 3, 1863, was a hit. It shows Santa Claus on his sleigh, which has arrived at a U.S. Army camp, festooned with a “Welcome Santa Claus” sign.
  • He is also credited with creating the notion that Santa lived at the North Pole and kept a workshop manned by elves.
 

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Once there was a monk known as St. Nicholas. He was born in Patara (near what we now know as Turkey) in 280 AD. He was known to be very kind, and that reputation led to many legends and stories.
  • One story involved him giving away his inherited wealth while he helped those who were sick and poor around the country.
  • Another story is that he saved three sisters from being sold into slavery.
  • Eventually he became known as the protector of children and sailors
 

The Dutch maintained the celebration of St. Nicholas far more than other cultures, and brought that celebration to America.
  • The Dutch gave St. Nicholas the nickname, “Sinter Klass“, and by 1804 woodcuts of Sinter Klass came to define modern day images of Santa.
  • Washington Irving popularized Sinter Klass in The History of New York by defining him as the patron saint of the city.
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Christkind

Christkind, which is German for “Christ Child,” was considered something like an angel that went along with St.Nicholas on his missions.

  • He would bring presents to good children in Switzerland and Germany.
  • He is sprite-like, often drawn with blond hair and angel wings.

There are two theories on the origin of Kris Kringle.

  • One is that the name is simply a mispronunciation and misunderstanding of the Christkind tradition.
  • The other is that Kris Kringle began as Belsnickle among the Pennsylvania Dutch in the 1820s.
  • He would ring his bell and give out cakes and nuts to small children,
  • but if they misbehaved they would receive a spanking with his rod.

 

In England, Father Christmas comes down the chimney and visits homes on Christmas Eve. He leaves treats in children’s stockings. He would traditionally leave small toys and presents. Children would leave out mince pies and milk or brandy for him.

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Pere Noel puts treats in the shoes of well-behaved French children.

  • He is joined in his travels by Pere Fouettard. Pere Fouettard is the one who provides the spankings to bad children.
  • While wooden shoes were used historically, today chocolate wooden shoes are filled with candies to commemorate the holiday.
  • Northern France celebrates St. Nicholas Eve on December 6th, so Pere Noel visits then and on Christmas Day.

 

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There are several stories about Babouschka in Russia.

  • One is that she put off traveling with the Wise Men to see the Baby Jesus, instead opting to have a party, and regretted it afterward.
  • So she set out every year to find the baby Jesus and give Him her gifts. Instead, she does not find him and gives the gifts to the children she finds along the way.
  • Another story is that she purposefully misled the wisemen, and soon realized her sin. She places gifts at the bedsides of Russian children, hoping that one of them is the baby Jesus and that He will forgive her sins.

 

Christmas shopping has been a tradition since the early 19th century.

  • By 1820 stores advertised Christmas shopping, and by 1840 there were already separate holiday ads that featured Santa Claus.
  • In 1890 the Salvation Army began dressing up unemployed workers as Santa and having them solicit donations throughout New York. You can still see those Santas outside stores and on street corners today.
Historical Notes
Virginia O’Hanlon’s full married name was Laura Virginia O’Hanlon Douglas. She was born on July 20, 1889, in Manhattan. Virginia died on May 13, 1971.
Clement Clarke Moore Park at 10th Avenue and 22nd Street was once part of  the Clarke family estate. The family mansion near Eighth Avenue and West 23rd was called “Chelsea,” named for a old soldier’s hospital in London.

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