The Chrismas Archives

CHRONOLOGY OF SANTA CLAUS

The following are based on documented evidence. It is obvious that the pagan deities and folklore go back beyond A.D.; and the custom of giftgiving was practiced by peoples of the Ancient World, thus this list is accurate but incomplete.

270-280AD Birth of St. Nicholas, who was to become the most accurate and actual ancestor of Santa Claus. He was ordained Bishop whilst still a very young man, and spent his life helping the poor and underpriviledged. He loved children and often went out at night disguised in a hooded cloak, to leave necessary gifts of money, clothing or food at the windows of unfortunate families.

c.343AD St. Nicholas died on the 6th December.

c.540AD There was an elaborate Basilica built over his tomb, and dedicated to the saint.

c.600AD The Saxons which invaded and settled Britain had the custom of giving human characteristics to the weather elements, welcoming the characters of King Frost, Lord Snow etc. to their homes in the hopes that the elements would look kindly on them. They would dress an actor in a pointed cap and cloak or cape, and drape him with Ivy, bringing him into their midst, and bidding him join their feast. He was to represent the Season, and would be treated with all respect, and drink toasts to him.

c.800AD The Vikings brought with them their beliefs in the Northern deities and Elementals, and their main god Odin, who in the guise of his December character came to earth dressed in a hooded cloak, to sit and listen to his people and see if they are contented or not. It was said that he carried a satchel full of bounty which he distributed to the needy or worthy. He was portrayed as a Sage with long white beard and hair.

I have seen no written proof of the fact, but it is probable that, like the Saxons, they dressed a man to represent Odin in his circuit of good works.

842AD First written life of St. Nicholas listing all his miracles, by Methodius, Bishop of Constantinople.

c.850AD The Clergy of Cologne Cathedral were commemorating the death of the saint by giving fruit and cookies to the boys of the cathedral school, on the 6th December.

987AD Nicholas became Patron Saint of Russia

By this time, his fame had spread far and wide, and he was adopted by many guilds and groups as their patron, including: Sailors; Children; Spinsters; Pawnbrokers. All bearing a direct reasoning to the stories told about Nicholas. As patron saint of sailors, his effigy was the figurehead of many ships, and thus his cult spread across the seas to Britain, (and later to the New World).

1087AD Italian Merchants steal the bones of St. Nicholas from his tomb in Demre, and take them to Bari, Italy. This was unofficially approved by the Church, which was anxious incase the shrine of the saint was desecrated in the many wars and attacks in the region. Also, by that time, the break between the Universal Church creating Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, was a contributing factor. The Roman Church felt that the bones of this most popular of saints should be in their safe keeping!

1119AD Life of St. Nicholas written by a Norman monk named Jean.

c.1120 Nuns in Belgium and France were giving gifts to the children of the poor, and those in their care, on the Saints Feast Day, 6th December.

1150AD Guace, a Norman French scribe to the royal household, wrote the life of Nicholas as Metric Poems for use as sermons

1200AD Hilarius, who studied under Peter Abelard, wrote the first 'musical'play about Nicholas .

1300AD Until this time Nicholas was portrayed with a short dark beard, like an Eastern Bishop. Belief in Odin, flying through the skies on his eight legged white horse, Sleipnir, with his long white beard flowing, was superimposed over the saints characteristics, and he developed a white beard. In Germanic countries he was further overlaid with the character of 'Winterman' who supposedly came down from the mountains with the snows, dressed in furs and skins, heralding winter. This character was also known in Scandinavia, where the Laps believed that he herded the reindeer down to lower pastures, and this was a sign that the winter snows were coming.

Laps homes had one opening, which was both door and smoke hole. They were dome shaped houses, usually covered with skins, and usually with top openings. A reason for the subsequent romantic story that Santa comes down the chimney.

1400AD Over 500 songs and hymns had been written in honour of Nicholas by this date.

1492AD Christopher Columbus arrived in Haiti on December 6th, naming the port St. Nicholas in thanks for the safe journey.

1500AD More than 700 churches in Britain alone, were dedicated to St. Nicholas by this date.

There is some small evidence to support the fact that in Europe, street parades were held led by a man dressed in Bishops robes and Mitred hat, riding a horse, on the feast of St. Nicholas, in the late middle ages.

In Britain, each parish would employ a man from outside the parish to dress in long hooded guise, and go to each home leaving a small gift and taking back any important news of the needy to the priests.

1616AD Ben Jonson presented his play, 'Christmas, his Masque' at the Court of King James . In this the Season of Christmas is represented by an actor, and his entourage consists of the special characteristics of Christmas impersonate. Minc'd Pie, Plum Pudding etc.

1626AD A fleet of ships, led by the 'GOEDE VROWE' (Goodwife), which had a figurehead of St. Nicholas, left Holland for the New World. They purchased some land from the Iroquois, for $24, named the village 'NEW AMSTERDAM' (Now New York), and erected a statue in the square to St. Nicholas.

1645AD A Broadsheet appeared on the streets of London, taunting the Government by a humorous political 'scandal' about the conviction and imprisonment of Christmas, and the Hue and Cry after his escape therefrom.

1647AD Christmas was banned in England, and the traditional mumming plays were visited by Father Christmas, who issued a taunting challenge to the government. "In comes I, Old Father Christmas, Be I welcome or be I not, I hope that Christmas will ne'er be forgot"

1678AD A book was published in LOndon entitled 'The Examination and Tryal of old Father Christmas' and his clearing by Jury.

From the 17th - 19th century it was the country mummers plays which kept Father Christmas alive in Britain. With the 'cleansing' of religious popery, it is interesting to note that the saintly bishop, represented by the Parish giftbringing visitor was replaced once more by the half pagan Impersonation of the Element or Season of Christmas.

1651AD The State of Massachusettes, settled by English Puritans, banned all observation of Christmas. 1664AD New Amsterdam was fought over and won by the British, who named it New York. They first banned St. Nicholas, and his statue fell. But later came to accept the pleasures of the festival of the saint, not associating it with Christmas, it being held on December 6th.

1773AD St. Nicholas first made the news in the New York Gazette which referred to him as otherwise known as St. A. Claus.

1809AD American writer, Washington Irving, described St. Nicholas in his 'History of New York', in a description of the figurehead on the ship Goede Vrowe, as being ..."equipped with a low brimmed hat, huge pair of Flemish hose and a pipe that reached to the end of the bowsprit....."

1810AD The New York Historical Society held the first official St. Nicholas celebration, and the occasion was commemorated with the production of the first portrait of St. Nicholas in the USA, and a full description of his characteristics.

1821AD A learned professor, student of European folklore, and poet, Reverend Clement Moore, gathered together all the elements of European lore, deities and folk-characters, added them to the descriptions of his fellow countrymen at the Historical Society and Washington Irving, and created a poem which was to become the gospel of Santa Claus for every writer and artist for a century to come. Called 'A visit from St. Nicholas ' or 'The night before Christmas' But he did this poem for his children, and when it was published by a friend, Moore did not allow his name to be associated with it until 1837.

There were subsequently many different publications, each illustrated according to the characteristics dictated by the poem, published from 1823 onwards, and while Thomas Nast has been attributed with being the first to illustrate Santa Claus, this assumption has long since been corrected by a vast number of earlier illustrations being found.

1863AD Thomas Nast did a political cartoon of Santa entitled 'Santa in Camp', for Harpers Weekly Journal. Dressed in Stars and Stripes Santa had joined the civil war on the side of General Grant in the North .

Perhaps he could have also appeared (being Santa, and strictly neutral) dressed in rebel gray for the South, but if so it was a private drawing as the South did not have the publishing resources of the North.

1864-1886AD Thomas Nast continued to draw Santa Claus every year, and became known as THE Santa Claus artist of the mid-1900's.

Meanwhile Britain was importing illustrations and cards depicting Santa Claus from Germany. He was called Father Christmas by the English, following the 17th. changes, and that name stuck. He was usually represented as a tall, almost aesthetic character, saintly and stern rather than the 'Jolly Elf' character being portrayed by the Americans.

1860's The English custom of a visit from Father Christmas was revived and established as the character visiting on Christmas Eve and leaving gifts for children in their stockings. Images, dolls and artwork from Germany helped to strengthen this custom.

The Germanic images showed him as a saint, in bishops robes, as a winterman in furs, as a saintly old man, often seen in the company of the Holy Child, and as a giftbringer in robes of every colour from brown, white, green blue to golds, pinks and red. Even in this latter guise, his countenance was serious more often than jolly, though laughing Santas did appear. These were usually those which were influenced by the American imagery, and intended for export to the USA.

1870's SantaClaus began to put in appearances in Department stores in the USA and Canada.

1873 Louis Prang of Boston published the first American Christmas Card. His images showed Santa Claus much in the same tradition as the earlier American images, but with a softer, gentler look. More the saintly old gent than the jolly old elf.

1890's Father Christmas began to appear in English Stores.

1922AD Norman Rockwell created a perfect blend of saintly and jolly when he created Santa for the Saturday Evening Post.

1931AD Coca Cola began their major promotion using Santa to promote their drink. Their artist, Haddon Sundblom created Santa in his own image! It is the Coca-Cola Santa which springs to mind now as the traditional Santa.

1948AD Department Stores in Britain increased the thrill of their Santa Grotto with train rides, sleigh rides, trip to the moon and elaborate animated scenes.

c. mid-1950's English Father Christmas slowly gives way to American Santa Claus.

1980's European traditions of Giftbringers begin to give way to Santa Claus. Spains's Three Kings , Italy's Befana, and Sweden's Tomte in particular have all given way to Santa as the anticipated Giftbringer, sometimes even as an additional giftbringer.