“Santa Claus” (from Flake’s Bulletin [Galveston, Texas] 22 December 1867; p. 4.)
Among the happy customs of merry Christmas, there are none more pleasing than those which cluster around the mythical Cris. Kringle. While most of our Christmas customs are from the English, Cris. Kringle is a genuine Dutchman, he comes from Holland, and was a citizen of New York, when New York was New Amsterdam. Santa Claus and Cris. Kringle are other names for Saint Nicholas, who was alike the tetular Saint of Holland and of all children. Saint Nicholas was born Dec. 6th, 343, at Patma, City of Lycia. His parents being in respectable circumstances, and Christians, they early taught him the precepts of their religion, though if we may credit tradition, he earlier proved himself a good Catholic. For the story is set down in the records of his pious life, that when an infant he refused maternal sustenance on Wednesdays and Fridays. But we are not told whether the “child Bishop,” as he was called kept those days as perfect fasts, or whether he then dined on gruel, harrada, pap, or any other of the vegetable substitutes for the natural food of infants.
The infantile piety of Saint Nicholas commended him to Constantine, the Great, who made him Bishop of Myra. He is everywhere set down as the patron of children and sailors, which latter fact may account for a multitude of rivers, sounds, bays and other natural divisions of water that bear the name of St. Nicholas. The visits of Saint Nicholas down the chimney of those chambers where good children sleep, to fill their stockings with nick-nacks and confectionaries are always welcome. The story, as told by the poet, is always good reading on Christmas Eve:
’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 nest[l]ed all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced through their heads;
And mama in her ’kerchief and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter nap—
When out on the lawn there rose 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 mid-day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a m[i]niature 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 called them by name.
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on Donder! and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch, 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 housetop 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 dressed all in fur from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot!
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back:
He looked 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 of 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 laughed 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 filled all the stockings; then turned 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!”
The Dutch children of Old and New Amsterdam, used to sing a hymn; as an invocation to their patron Saint, of which we will give one verse both in the ancient and in the modern dialect:
“Sint Nicholaas, myn goden vriend,
Ik hebu altyd wel gediend;
Alsey my nu wot wilt geben,
Fal ik dienen, als myn lenen.”
“St. Nicholas, my dear, good friend,
To serve you ever was my end;
If you me now something will give,
Serve you I will, as long as I live.”
May the traditions and customs of Saint Nicholas long resist the march of our practical civilization, which so persistently throws down all our household gods, and destroys all our pleasant folly.