32¢ Dreaming of Santa
Issue Date: October 8, 1996
City: North Pole, AK
Printed By: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Printing Method: Lithographed and engraved
America’s Pilgrim settlers did not bring Christmas to the New World. So opposed were they to the Christmas frolicking and merrymaking prevalent in England, that anyone caught observing the holiday was fined.
Fortunately, Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam had a kinder view. Though not Christmas observers, they celebrated the Feast of St. Nicholas on December 6. On that day, children received gifts from this patron saint. In 1644 New Amsterdam became New York. The new settlers – of Anglican (English Catholic) persuasion – celebrated their traditional Christmas. Finding St. Nicholas attractive, they celebrated his day too. Quickly, the holidays merged and became one.
When the Dutch sailed to the New World in 1630, a bearded St. Nicholas, wearing a broad-rimmed hat and holding a long-stemmed pipe, graced the prow of their ship. In 1809 Washington Irving described the St. Nicholas of his time as a chubby little man with a jolly smile, drawn in a sleigh by a team of reindeer. Thirteen years later, Clement C. Moore poetically endowed this jolly gift-giver with an irresistible personality in A Visit from St. Nicholas. Overnight, St. Nick became a national darling. When his nickname, Sinterklaas, was changed to Santa Claus, he became an American icon.