A Visit From St. Nicholas

My grandfather was born in 1902, and as a small child was the recipient of many wonderful postcards, including a sizable collection of Christmas greetings.  At least a third of this set portrays the night before Christmas, and specifically the visit from St. Nicholas.  

When I stand at a bank of Christmas cards today, any box featuring Santa will predictably show a jolly, plump, full-bearded man who is dressed in a red, fur trimmed suit.  When I gaze at the cards sent to little Donald Minor, a variety of images are included, representing the diverse origins of the great saint and his gift-giving tradition.  

Several cards take the St. Nicholas tradition of walking from house to house and add some northern climate changes. This gift-giver must trudge through snow in warm fur robes and heavy fur boots.  He is a rather stern looking old man, lean and weathered. 

Another postcard portrays St. Nicholas delivering gifts from his reindeer drawn sleigh – which remains on the ground.  

The American version of the gift-bearing winter saint was most likely brought to the United States by Dutch settlers in eighteenth century New York.  Sinterklaas – Santa Claus – wore a hat and smoked a pipe as he flew over treetops in his wagon to deliver children’s gifts on Christmas Eve.  *¹  That image was expanded upon in Clement C. Moore’s instant classic, the 1823 poem A Visit from St. Nicholas, and entered the seasonal imagery throughout the Victorian era.  American publishers took advantage of the popularity of this Santa Claus when developing their holiday postcard designs at the turn of the 20th century. 


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 sugarplums danced in their heads; and Mama in her kerchief and I in my cap, had just settled down for a long winter’s 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  a luster of midday to 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 hiscoursers 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 the 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 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, and he looked like a peddler 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 laughed 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 as he drove out of sight,

“Merry Christmas to all and to all a Good Night!”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

*¹ Irving, Washington. A History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty. Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1812. 106-07. accessed on line December 21, 2011.

*²Moore, Clement C. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Philadelphia: Running Press, 1995.

Postcard Play: Make Christmas Gift Tags

My grandfather, Donald C. Minor, left a postcard collection, which includes a couple dozen Christmas greetings from 1906-1910.  Besides gleaning genealogical clues and collecting family history snippets, I brainstorm ways to play this art forward.  What a waste it would be to just file these pieces of art away in acid free sleeves!  One of my favorite things to do is print out a sheet of images to be cut and used as  gift tags.  

Santa Images Make Great Christmas Eve Deliveries

.

I use Windows Photo Gallery.  When I open the jpeg file for the postcard in Pictures my screen looks like this:

And I can then print out the image.  I prefer using the wallet size setting.

Once printed and separated I use the reproduced postcards on gifts.  With a couple of swipes from a glue stick a tag can be attached directly to the wrapped gift.  Or alternatively I can punch a hole in the corner and thread the tag onto the package with ribbon.  Either way the vintage image makes a terrific little decoration!

The Mystery of a Purple-Robed Santa

In December of 1910 my grandfather, Donald C. Minor of Greene County, Pennsylvania received another Christmas postcard from Genevia in Morgantown, West Virginia.  She wrote:

“I hope Santa will bring you lots of pretty things and that you will have a Merry Xmas and Happy New year. Your friend, Genevia”

As a genealogist the card provides no clues about family threads; as a family historian I can find no details that shed light on a family story.  Nor are there clues and details regarding the publisher or printer, other than this Santa message was printed in Germany, as were most cards of the era.

However, the painting is remarkable in a couple of details – Santa is dressed in a purple robe trimmed in brown fur, as opposed to the red suit trimmed in white fur seen in my other cards.  This Santa also bears gifts which are wrapped and carried, not stuffed in a sack, and a decorated, potted tree.  

I wonder what traditional tales this Santa is drawn from?  If you know, dear Reader, I hope you will leave a comment below!  Merry Christmas!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sing A Song for Christmas!

Copyright 1906, P Sander N.Y.

A Merry Christmas!  I am so pleased to find among my collection a fine example of a glittered embossed postcard by P. Sander Company.  Oh, how I wish I knew the ins and outs of scanning to capture three dimensions, for the publishers of this era worked hard to enhance their cards, simply and cheaply, with embossing–raised areas of the painting that create depth! In this 1906 card the red-breasted songsters are heavily embossed atop a snow-covered fence that is less heavily embossed, quickly drawing your eye to the artist’s main subject.  The holly and snow are not only embossed but glittered, giving the impression that the sun may be peaking out between snow bearing clouds.  In the silver embossed background, a riverside town sits in the muffled, snowy silence.  Such a beautiful card! A hand delivered Merry Christmas to four year old Donald Minor from May M.

A Merry (European) Christmas!

E. B. C. Publisher, Printed in Saxony

Hello, Donald, Come on over and we will sled ride. What is Santa Claus going to bring you. ~Carl

This toy-bearing gent is more St. Nicholas than Santa Claus.   Influenced by the artist’s Saxon* roots, this illustration depicts a St. Nick clad in heavy black boots and a long, hooded red robe tromping through the snow, his waist-length beard catching the wind.  A mittened left hand clasps the fir tree which is big enough that it must stand on the floor in some fortunate home!  Under its branches St. Nick will leave dolls and drums pulled from his basket and sack.

Carl Corbly Minor extended his sledding invitation to his five year old cousin, Donald Minor, in December of 1907.  The 28 year old son of Alfred (1859-1886) and Anna Minor lived down the road from Robert, May, Helen and Donald, running his family’s farm with his mother and younger brother, Frank M.  Imagine these rolling hills of southwestern Pennsylvania covered with a good snowfall. I am certain Donald had a fast trip down!

The rolling hills of the Minor Home Farm, Ceylon Road, R.D. 1, Carmichaels, PA

*Saxony is a southeastern state of current day Germany and is home to Dresden, Leipzig and Seiffen. It is also the home of many Christmas customs, like the Christmas tree.