History of Christmas and Santa Claus
Most of the Western world today considers Christmas to be a time for joy and sharing unique Christmas presents. And, especially in America, the spirit of Santa Claus is automatically included as part of the holiday festivities.
It's hard to imagine that from 1659 to 1681 the celebration of Christmas was outlawed in Boston... and those who violated this law were fined five shillings. In fact, Christmas was not even a holiday in early America.
Interestingly, Congress was actually in session on December 25, 1789, which was our country's first Christmas Day following the creation of our U.S. Constitution.
Christmas was declared a federal holiday in the United States on June 26, 1870. But, it was not immediately embraced by Americans. Eventually though, Christmas was changed from a raucous carnival type holiday into a more peaceful family oriented day of gift giving and reflection.
Most everyone knows about the Charles Dickens classic holiday tale, A Christmas Carol, which promotes charity and good will towards all mankind. In December 1843, he introduced this timeless masterpiece by saying: I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.
Indeed, it has not only "haunted" our homes pleasantly... it has been more or less foundational as Americans began to build a Christmas tradition all their own that included pieces of many other inherited customs... including decorating trees... sending holiday cards... and gift-giving, which certainly includes the spirit of Santa Claus.
It's somewhat ironic so many families quickly bought into the idea they were celebrating Christmas as they envisioned had been done for centuries. In fact, Americans actually reinvented the Christmas holiday to fill the multicultural needs of a growing nation.
The Christian tradition of Santa Claus dates back to the 4th century A.D. and is attributed to Bishop Nicholas of Smyrna (Izmir), in what is now Turkey. He is credited as having been extremely generous, while giving poor children numerous gifts to include some unique Christmas presents that he is believed to have thrown through their open windows.
The American version of Santa Claus was inspired by the Dutch legend of Sinter Klaas and he was introduced by settlers to New York in the 17th century. In 1823, he was fully Americanized by writer Clement Clarke Moore in his famous poem The Night Before Christmas.
His prowess in determining which children had been naughty and which had been nice is attributed to illustrator Thomas Nast, who depicted a rotund Santa for many of the Harper's magazine Christmas issues from the 1860s to the 1880s.
In 1890, the Salvation Army began using workers clad as Santa Claus to walk the city streets gathering donations for the poor. And, in 1931 Coca-Cola began to advertise using illustrations of Santa Claus based on the jolly character described in the Moore poem.
Ione Adams has used her artistic discretion to extend the representation of Santa Claus beyond the historically traditional. By creating Santa doll cloaks fashioned from garments that are identified with Japan, China, Korea, Okinawa, Thailand, the Philippines, Hawaii, India and Africa, she has managed to create an entirely new identity for the peripatetic giver of gifts.
If you are looking for truly unique Christmas presents, be sure to take a close look at over 100 one-of-a-kind gift ideas right here on this site.