Thursday, December 24, 2009

Santa Claus in America

From the book 1776-1976: Zweihundert Jahre deutsch-amerikanische Beziehungen (Two Hundred Years of German-American Relations), a documentary with 468 illustrations and plates, edited by Thomas Piltz, there is a brief description of the German influence on American Christmas customs, accompanied by the Santa Claus image popularized by Thomas Nast.

In the book's penultimate chapter, Santa Claus Meets Buffalo Bill: Folklore and Humor, Piltz writes of the German immigrants:
Many national customs of the immigrants always remained a mystery to their neighbors, but there was one which quickly found acceptance all over--the Christmas tree with its festive decorations.
Decorated though a Christmas tree may be, it is incomplete without the gifts Santa Claus leaves underneath it on Christmas Eve. Of St. Nick, Piltz writes further:
Father Christmas also became very popular, but had to undergo quite a transformation before emerging from the pen of German-born caricaturist Thomas Nast as Santa Claus, of the round belly and rosy cheeks.
By the way, it was Nast who also created the figure of Uncle Sam as well as the symbols of the two big political parties--the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant.

A full-page illustration of Nast's Santa Claus (pictured above) accompanies the chapter. The illustration's caption refers to Santa Claus as a joint creation of Nast and the poet "Clark Moore" (should be Clement Clarke Moore), who first mentioned the figure in his famous poem "The Night Before Christmas." Or was he the first?

On this Christmas Eve, 2009, acknowledging the customs we enjoy in America, I'd like to paraphrase Moore (or whomever authored the classic Christmas poem) and repeat the famous last line of the poem:
Frohe Weihnachten to all and to all a good night!

No comments:

Post a Comment