A visit with St. Nicholas

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Editor’s note: With Christmas Eve just a couple of days away, for children here in Switzerland County and all around the world, that means that Santa Claus will begin his journey to deliver toys to boys and girls who have ended up on his “Nice List”.

On a planning trip this week, Santa ended up here in Switzerland County, and was gracious enough to allow for some questions as he readies for his biggest night of the year.

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Q: Most children know you as Santa Claus, but you also have other names: St. Nicholas and Kris Kringle just to name a couple. What’s up with that?

A: Well, I am a descendant from a Monk named St. Nicholas, who lived in what is now Turkey about the year 280, so that’s a long time ago. He was known for giving away all of his money and possessions and traveling around the countryside helping people who were poor and sick. His life of generosity and helping those in need has been handed down through generations of my family; all the way to me. On Christmas Eve each year, I just try to carry on the family tradition.

As for Kris Kringle, that’s a relatively new one. It comes from a mixing of traditions here in America and also Germany, where I am known as ‘Christkind’. If you’ve ever seen the movie, “Miracle on 34th Street”, you’ll remember that the main character’s name was Kris Kringle, so that’s a newer one for me.

In Canada, they have a ‘Secret Santa’ tradition that’s called ‘Kriss Kringle’, so that plays a part in it, too.

You can also throw in names like “Father Christmas”, “Sinter Klaas,” and “St. Nick”, but I just prefer “Santa”.

Q: So have you always been so popular?

A: No, in fact, In 1804, John Pintard, a member of the New York Historical Society, distributed woodcuts of me at the society’s annual meeting. The background of the engraving contains now-familiar Santa images including stockings filled with toys and fruit hung over a fireplace.

In 1809, Washington Irving helped to popularize the Sinter Klaas stories when he referred to me as the patron saint of New York in his book, The History of New York. As Washington Irving’s prominence grew, I was described as everything from a “rascal” with a blue three-cornered hat, red waistcoat, and yellow stockings, to a man wearing a broad-brimmed hat and a “huge pair of Flemish trunk hose.”

But I guess things really got rolling around 1822, when Clement Clarke Moore, an Episcopal minister, wrote a long Christmas poem for his three daughters entitled “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas.” Moore’s poem, which he was initially hesitant to publish due to the frivolous nature of its subject, is largely responsible for your modern image of me as a “right jolly old elf” with a portly figure and the supernatural ability to ascend a chimney with a mere nod of my head!

His poem helped popularize the now-familiar image of me flying from house to house on Christmas Eve in “a miniature sleigh” led by eight flying reindeer leaving presents for deserving children.

Then, in 1881, a cartoonist named Thomas Nast used the poem as inspiration to create the first likeness that matches your modern image of me. His cartoon depicted me as a rotund, cheerful man with a full, white beard, holding a sack laden with toys for lucky children. That cartoon is also where the world found out about my bright red suit trimmed with white fur; as well as my home at the North Pole and my workshop, my elves who are my helpers, and of course my wife, Mrs. Claus.

Q: So, the big question for most children, is how do you get to all those houses in just one night?

A: Well, first of all, remember that there are time zones, so it’s not the same time all around the world. When some children are fast asleep in their beds in one place; they are waking up to celebrate Christmas in another place. It’s dark on one side of the planet, and it’s daylight on the other side.

Then, of course, there’s science. I’m a Star Trek junkie, so if you like the show too, you know that the Enterprise is capable of flying at speeds faster than the speed of light. My sleigh’s no different.

I also get help from governmental agencies like NORAD, which helps plot my travels to keep me out of bad weather and places where’s there’s busy air traffic. If you travel, you know Atlanta is a pain on the highways, you can only imagine what it’s like in the air.

Q: And you’re in Switzerland County today for…..?

A: Laying some plans for the big night; and I’m also checking on some children who haven’t quite made the “Nice” list – yet. I’ve heard from some parents that their children just aren’t being very good, and they are afraid that if something doesn’t change, I won’t leave any presents at their house. I used to leave coal in the stockings of “Naughty” children, but with the shift to renewable energy, now I just leave nothing.

I guess I’m hoping that all of the children here in Switzerland County will really work hard at being good and helping out their parents. I’ve got a lot of presents, and I don’t want to have to take any back to the North Pole with me.

Also, there’s a certain dentist around here that I’ve heard some pretty disturbing things about, so I want to check in with him….

Q: Merry Christmas, Santa.

A: Merry Christmas, everyone.

-Pat Lanman