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A brief history of Santa Claus-Part I

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As part of our continuing series on the history of holiday traditions, we offer a brief history of Santa Claus. While the red suit and white bearded Santa is a relatively recent incarnation, the American Santa Claus was inspired by the Dutch legend of Sinter Klaas.

It was in 1809 when Washington Irving,writing under the pseudonym Dietrich Knickerbocker, described St. Nicholas’s arrival on St. Nicholas’s Eve.

In 1823, St. Nick took on his fully Americanized form in“The Night before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore, Moore included such details as the names of the reindeer, Santa’s laugh, wink and the method for going up the chimney (“laying his finger alside of his nose”) which came from Irving’s 1809 description.

During the Victorian era, Santa was dressed much differently in green robes as opposed to a red suit. It is this incarnation of Santa that can be seen at Historic Columbia's holiday functions. By the way, you can have breakfast with Victorian Santa on December 21 at the Robert Mills Carriage House. Click here for further details.

The rotund Santa comes from the 19th-century illustrator Thomas Nast who used the figure for Harper’s Illustrated Magazine from the 1860s-1880s. A human-sized Santa , as opposed to the elf of Moore’s poem, was used in Coca-Cola ads starting in 1931. It is that Santa Claus that we think of today.

In modern versions of the Santa Claus legend, only the workers in his toy shop are elves."Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer", first shows up in a Montgomery Ward ad in 1939.

Check back tomorrow for more on Santa

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