One of the most important developments in
the history of the American Santa was the publication of a work in 1809
entitled ‘A History of New. York From The Beginning Of The World To The
End Of The Dutch Dynasty’. It was supposedly written by a Diedrich
Knickerbocker. But actually this was the pen name used by the American
author, Washington frying, who wrote such favorites as ‘Rip Van Winkle’
and ‘The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow’.
In this work Irving not only dealt in a
humorous way about the Dutch in New York, or New Amsterdam as it was then
called, but he also dealt with their love of St. Nicholas. However, Irving
made a dramatic departure in his physical description of the saint. . . he
changed the bishop’s robes to more traditional Flemish attire. And
instead of the bishop’s hat or miter, there was a wide brimmed hat, hose
and a long Dutch clay pipe. St. Nicholas had been transformed from a
bishop into a Dutch gentleman.
At this time too, the Old Dutch name for
St. Nicholas, ‘Sint Niklass’, popularly became ‘Sin tirklaas’, and
then ‘Sante Klaas’.
Irving wrote about Santa Klaas flying
about with a wagon and horse over the rooftops of New Amsterdam with his
basket of toys “now and then drawing forth magnificent presents from his
breeches pockets and dropping them down the chimneys of his favorites”.
Influenced by this new ‘Knickerbocker’
Santa, Dr. Clement Clarke Moore wrote his immortal poem ‘A Visit From
St. Nicholas’ in 1822. But it wasn’t until 1848 that the poem was
published in book form. Along with the poem, the book contained seven wood
engravings by the artist T. C. Boyd, the very first representation of this
new St. Nick. But the sketches that Boyd drew showed less bulk and less
cheer than the elf in the poem. Actually his drawings were closer to the
original ‘Knickerbocker’ Santa that Irving had written about
thirty-nine years earlier. But this provided a gradual transition to the
later drawings of Thomas Nast who put the finishing touches on the merry
old soul we know today.
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