“Pennsylvanian Folk Lore: Christmas,” by “Uneda” (from Notes & Queries 8 [24 December 1853]: 615.)
This anniversary holds the same rank in the middle, southern, and western states as Thanksgiving Day in the eastern states of New England, where, owing to the Puritan origin of the bulk of the inhabitants, Christmas is not much celebrated. In Pennsylvania many of the usages connected with it are of German origin, and derived from the early settlers of the Teutonic race, whose descendants are now a very numerous portion of the population. The Christmas Tree is thus devised: It is planted in a flower-pot filled with earth, and its branches are covered with presents, chiefly of confectionary, for the younger members of the family.
When bed-time arrives on Christmas Eve, the children hang up their stockings at the foot of their beds, to receive presents brought them by a fabulous personage called Krishkinkle, who is believed to descend the chimney with them for all the children who have been good during the previous year. The word Krishkinkle is a corruption of Christ-kindlein, literally Christ-infant, and is understood to be derived from the fact that a representation of the Infant Saviour in the manger formed part of the decorations prepared for the children at Christmas.
If the children have not been good during the year previous, instead of finding sugar-plums and other presents in their stockings on Christmas morning, they discover therein a birch-rod. This is said to have been placed there by Pelsnichol, or Nicholas with the fur, alluding to the dress of skins in which he is said to be clad. Some make Pelsnichol identical with Krishkinkle, but the more general opinion is that they are two personages, one the rewarder of the good, the other the punisher of the bad.
The functions ascribed to Krishkinkle in Pennsylvania are attributed to Saint Nicholas, or Santa Claus in the State of New York, first settled by the Hollanders. The following poem, written by Clement C. Moore, LL.D., of New York, describes the performances of St. Nicholas on Christmas Eve, and is equally applicable to our Krishkinkle:
“A Visit from St. Nicholas.”
’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her kerchief and I in my cap
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash;
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of day to the objects below;
When what to my wondering eyes should appear
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled and shouted and call’d them by name.
‘Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer! now, Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Dunder and Blixen!
To the top of the stoop*, to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!’
As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With a sleigh full of toys and St. Nicholas too;
And then in a twinkling I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dress’d all in fur from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot.
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back;
And he look’d like a pedlar just opening his pack.
His eyes, how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow:
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laugh’d when I saw him, in spite of myself.
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And fill’d all the stockings, then turn’d with a jerk;
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle:
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
‘Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.’ ”
* Stoop means, in the language of the New Yorkers, a portico.