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Folklore: Origin of Letters to Santa-- any ideas?

CapriUni 30 Dec 05 - 12:17 AM
Emma B 30 Dec 05 - 07:53 AM
Amos 30 Dec 05 - 11:06 AM
CapriUni 30 Dec 05 - 11:47 AM
Emma B 30 Dec 05 - 12:00 PM
CapriUni 30 Dec 05 - 12:15 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 30 Dec 05 - 05:19 PM
Amos 30 Dec 05 - 05:29 PM
Azizi 30 Dec 05 - 06:46 PM
CapriUni 30 Dec 05 - 08:02 PM
Azizi 30 Dec 05 - 09:05 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 30 Dec 05 - 09:09 PM
CapriUni 30 Dec 05 - 10:42 PM
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Subject: Folklore: Origin of Letters to Santa-- any ideas?
From: CapriUni
Date: 30 Dec 05 - 12:17 AM

According to Phyllis Siefker, in her book Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men, the tradition of the winter gift-giver handing out goodies to the good children and punishments (or threats of punishments) goes back to at least medeival Germany, and that this tradition was brought to North American shores by the German immigrants to Pennsylvania.

Most early accounts, though, report simply the giving of generic treats -- apples, nuts, candy, hand-carved wooden toys. As I understand it, advertising of specific toys directly to children didn't begin until the 1950's, when Mattel realized the power advertising during children's programming could wield in sales.

So -- where and when did the sitting down and making out a list of specific demands begin? Nasty habit, if you ask me, but, like most things, its start was probably benign, at least in intent. And it's now as ingrained in our Christmas/Santa Claus myth as those 8 reindeer, or that Claus's home is at the north pole.

The question just popped into my head, and now I'm wondering ...

It can't be any better to give than to receive. But it's far better to receive than to demand.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of Letters to Santa-- any ideas?
From: Emma B
Date: 30 Dec 05 - 07:53 AM

No help on the origins of writing letters to Father Christmas I'm afraid Capri; but fond childhood memories of watching the letter float leisurely up the chimney above a roaring winter fire.

In these days of central heating "Santa's Net" reports that Santa received 30,000 Emails last year. Presumably not all these were from children as "many people in their Emails to Santa ask for things like '$1,000,000' 'a new Ferrari' and 'one of the Spice girls - preferably - Sporty'"

During the week Dec 12-16th BBC Radio 4 broadcast from Jeremy Seal's book "Santa: A Life" - A long sleigh ride from Asia Minor to the mall

This charts the "biography" from a 4thC Christian bishop from Myra (now Demre in Turkey) via Amsterdam (where Sint Nicolaas was rendered as SinterKlass) to modern day America alongside European immigrants.

According to the book the giving of presents can be traced back to a single story of the Saints life by the chronicler Symeon which was widely disseminated in the early Christian Church.

"A nobleman had fallen on hard times and, since he could find no suitors for his impecunious daughters, decided to sell them into prostitution, God, however, had other plans and sent Nicholas to their aid. He went to their house at night and, not wishing to be identified, threw a bag of gold in the window giving the eldest daughter a dowry to make marriage possible. He did this twice more, but on the third visit was apprehended by the father. Nicholas swore him to secrecy."

.........and a Happy New Year


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of Letters to Santa-- any ideas?
From: Amos
Date: 30 Dec 05 - 11:06 AM

The following excerpt from the 1897 editorial to Virgina, the girl who wondered if there was a Santa, is from around the same period that Christmas cards as a commercial mass event, and the letters-to-=Santa fad, started up, in my opinion. I believe the current costume ascribed to Santa was developed by CocoCola advertisers in the 1920's.


A



"

Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus



The People's Almanac, pp. 1358–9. (Originally published in The New York Sun in 1897.)

We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:

Dear Editor—

I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, "If you see it in The Sun, it's so." Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?

Virginia O'Hanlon

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

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. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

..."


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of Letters to Santa-- any ideas?
From: CapriUni
Date: 30 Dec 05 - 11:47 AM

Emma B.:

Yes, Ms. Siefker also recounts the story of the historical man Nicholas, who later became a saint. She then goes on to make a very strong argument that the winter gift giver that we associate with the holidays actually evolved from Saint Nicholas's demon-slave companion: Black Pete. It was Black Pete, after all, who laughed uproarously and carried a sack on his back, while the Saint who held his chain stood by in aloof, stern judgement.

Amos:

You're probably right. The Christmas cards and letters, the tree, the sleigh and 8 tiny reindeer, all sort of came together in a single package within a few short years of each other in the mid-19th Century, didn't they? And yes, I've heard that story about Coca-Cola's advertising, too. Next year, I'm planing on making my own Nicholas for my front yard, and I'm going to dress him in more motley fashion.

Anyway, I was prompted to ask because the thought came to me, last night, that all the commercial pressure around the holiday takes the joy out of it for many people. And the pressure comes from the feeling that we're not so much giving gifts as paying ransom -- that if we don't get the perfect thing, the exact thing that was asked for -- we'll somehow "ruin" the day.

Most people are not that bad, I don't think, but there are enough of them out there to add just enough stress. It occurred to me that this ugly habit of Christmas Gift Registries and such are just "letters to Santa" magnified to the umpteenth exponant, and the people who demand specific gifts are still stuck at the level of a frustrated 7 year old (After all, much younger than that, and kids are as happy with the box!).


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of Letters to Santa-- any ideas?
From: Emma B
Date: 30 Dec 05 - 12:00 PM

Awwwwwww Amos! - you're just an old softie underneath

Yes, C Clemont Moore and Coca Cola have a lot to answer for - give me a Father Christmas clad in rich green robes with holly boughs any day - and if there's a spare white stallion to hand ..so much the better!


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of Letters to Santa-- any ideas?
From: CapriUni
Date: 30 Dec 05 - 12:15 PM

Emma -- I made a "Holly King Santa" wreath for Dad several years ago. It's a soft sculpture face, carved from foam rubber, with (fake, I'm afraid, for durability) holly boughs forming his hair and beard.

I am planning to make one for my own door, next year. I might make him free-standing in the yard, though; my favorite illustration from that Santa book, mentioned above, shows Santa riding on a long-horned, long-bearded goat, with a Wassail bowl upraised in one hand, and the infant New Year nestled in the crook of his other arm. If I did a recreation of that, however, it might freak out my pious, Church-going Christian neighbors, so I might substitute a deer for the goat -- a white-tailed deer (a local species), though.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of Letters to Santa-- any ideas?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 30 Dec 05 - 05:19 PM

The story of Santa Claus 'the Red' at: www.unmuseum.org/santa.htm: Santa Claus

Washington Irving included Santa Claus in a comic history of New York in 1809. The NY Historical Society took it up and held a St. Nicholas Dinner in 1810. The Society and not the Dutch settlers in New York are seemingly to blame for popularizing this notorious character.

Clement Moore ("A Visit from St. Nicholas," 1822; aka "The Night before Christmas") saw his nonsensical doggerel published in 1823, insidiously imprinting the story on our minds and giving children a tool to threaten parents who did not load them down with loot.

Thomas Nast (cartoonist for 'Harper's Weekly', about 1860s) invented the North Pole workshop and the book of names of children who had been naughty or nice. Aha! Parents start to fight back!

Santa Claus became red sometime near the end of the 19th c., well before Coca-Cola saw a good thing and used him in advertising and gimmicks. Anyone who has a genuine original Santa Claus serving tray (many reproductions) can hock it for a nice piece of change.
[I have some xmas cards in my collection from 1900-1910 that show this red-suited trouble-maker. In one he has a group of children in his sleigh- was he a pedophile, collecting children in the dark of night for his perverted sex life? The card only has the cryptic, now non-PC message, 'Merry Christmas']

The website linked above concludes its text with an extract from an article in "Spy Magazine" which shows that Santa would have to travel at 650 miles per second to complete his rounds and his sleigh would have to carry over 320,000 tons if each avaricious little one received a two-pound present. The article throws icy water on the whole myth.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of Letters to Santa-- any ideas?
From: Amos
Date: 30 Dec 05 - 05:29 PM

Q:

See the "Yes, Virginia" excerpt above. You can't undo Santa with mere physics, I am afraid. He's a sentiment.

A


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of Letters to Santa-- any ideas?
From: Azizi
Date: 30 Dec 05 - 06:46 PM

I vaguely remember reading somewhere that Santa had a Black slave {servant?} that gave sticks and stale bread to children who were bad. I'm very glad that "Black Pete" didn't make it to the 21st century. There are enought instances already when "black" is equated with something bad.

Though I went along with my children's belief in Santa Claus, a part of me disliked the idea that they and other Black children would think that their Christmas presents came from a White man and not from the struggles and sacrifices of their Black parents. While the image of Santa Claus largely remains a White man, for the sake of children who are of Black ancestry, I'm glad that the custom of Black men dressing up as Santa Claus {with no white facial paint} is seen as no big deal nowadays instead of being considered odd like it was when my children were growing up in the 1970s and 1980s.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of Letters to Santa-- any ideas?
From: CapriUni
Date: 30 Dec 05 - 08:02 PM

Azizi --

In that Santa Claus book I cited from in my first post, Ms. Siefker makes a strong argument that Black Pete's blackness came not from race, but because he was a far ancient figure of the Holy Smith, who tended the sacred fires of life, and his face was blackened with soot.

She also points out that he broke his chains of slavery, and went solo, appropriating, along the way his old 'Master's' name...

Q --

This post, from Dianavan, in another thread, last year, gives a hint as to what those kids were doing in the back of that sleigh -- Seems that in some cultures, the really naughty children got taken away by Black Peter (or Santa), until the following year. I have a private theory that that's where Santa gets his elves -- a stint of community service and detention at the North Pole workshop. If you ask me, its good karma...


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of Letters to Santa-- any ideas?
From: Azizi
Date: 30 Dec 05 - 09:05 PM

CapriUni, I appreciate that information. I plan to find that book and read it next year.

As an aside, I wonder if the English practice of blackening the skin during Morris dances or other festive occassions has any connection to this theory that Black Peter's skin was black because he was the slave to "the Holy Smith who tended the sacred fires of life, and his face was blackened with soot".

BUT- while I'm curious about this, I'm by no means wanting to hijack this thread to discuss the tradition of blackening up... There have been other threads such as This thread in which that tradition was rather thoroughly discussed.

****

Happy New Year to all. May we continue to learn from each other.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of Letters to Santa-- any ideas?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 30 Dec 05 - 09:09 PM

Yes, Amos, Santa is a matter of familiarity and sentiment, but now that the frantic season is almost over, I revert to my bah! humbug! attitude. Harrumph!
When I was a child, Santa Fe, my New Mexico home town, was predominantly Hispanic (mostly descendants of settlers who came in the 17th and 18th centuries), so gifts for the children came from Los Reyes magos (Three kings Day, January 6)). Old timers do not remove the nativity scene until February 2.
More recent immigrants from Mexico follow the church observances but many have adopted Anglo gift-giving habits. The city is still about 50% Hispanic.
On New Year's Eve, the Rooster's Mass is celebrated at midnight followed by a meal and gifts (and more partying).

Anglo families observed the Christmas holidays- but somehow as kids we sometimes got mixed up in both traditions.

(Asian and African customs are not noticeable in Santa Fe (Asians about 1%, African-Americans less than 1%). Indians (2-3% live in the city) mostly follow seasonal observances of their home pueblos and nations, about 1/3 Christian.

In Calgary, Canada, where I live now, Asians and other visible minorities make up 20% of the population (mostly Chinese and many SE Asian), and observances of Chinese New Year's and other traditions are strong. But so are the American-Canadian traditions of Christmas. Many Muslims, so Ramadan is important. Jewish holidays also seem strong. Only about 1% Black, from Africa and Caribbean, so little impact and no Black Santas, Azizi.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of Letters to Santa-- any ideas?
From: CapriUni
Date: 30 Dec 05 - 10:42 PM

Q -- in this thread: Lyr/Chords Req: Drive the Cold Winter Away (a carol from a 1719 edition of Pills to Purge Melancholy), there's a verse about keeping the party going until it's time to start preparing the fields for plowing. So keeping the nativity scene up until February 2 seems about right.


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