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Archiver > Dutch-Colonies > 2001-01 > 0978470939

Subject: [D-Col] America's Dutch Santa
Date: Tue, 2 Jan 2001 16:28:59 EST

I had hoped to post this earlier during the Christmas holidays when it would
have been more appropriate but not surprisingly I got very caught up in the
usual hustle bustle of all and just did not find the time. The following is
of interest just in general regarding the influence of the Dutch on our
current American traditions but also is relevent to the discussion earlier
about the *true* author of "The Night Before Christmas".

According to author Penne L. Restad in her book "Christmas in America..a
History" (pub. 1995) it was probably Washington Irving (among other writers)
who influenced the author of "The Night Before Christmas". When Irving's book
"A History of New York" was published in 1809 Livingston would have been 51.
Moore was a generation younger and only 30 at that time. Irving's fictional
"history", based on fact, was full of humorous Dutch stereotypes and well
received by most (although some of the descendants were sensitive about it
apparently) . From the recent descriptions given of Henry Livingston one
would presume that he would have found the book great fun.

Irving's colorful depiction of Wouter Van Twiller the first Governor of the
New Netherland is so similar to the Santa in "The Night Before Christmas"
that it cannot be a coincidence. Irving states that Van Twiller was as though
formed "of some cunning Dutch statuary.....five feet six inches in height,
and six feet five inches in circumference....his legs though exceedingly
short, were sturdy to the weight they had to sustain...when erect he had the
appearance of a robustious beer-barrel standing on skids. Two small grey eyes
twinkled feebly in the midst, like two stars of lesser magnitude in the hazy
firmament; and his full fed cheeks, which seemed to have taken toll of
everything that went into his mouth, were curiously mottled and streaked with
dusky red like a Spitzenberg apple."

Irving mentions, "the smoke curling from his pipe to the ceiling" and that
"he smoked for half an hour without saying a word; at length, laying a finger
beside his nose...." . Inspiration for Santa may have also come from Irving's
depiction in this same work of a dream had by Oloffe Van Kortlandt. "the good
St. Nicholas came riding over the tops of trees.....he lit his pipe by the
fire and sat himself down and smoked; and as he smoked the smoke from his
pipe ascended into the air and spread like a cloud overhead......and when St.
Nicholas had smoked his pipe, he twisted it in his hat-band, and laying a
finger beside his nose, gave the astonished Van Kortlandt a very significant
wink, then mounting his wagon, he returned over the tree-tops and

Ms. Restad also notes that some images may have also come from a 1662
didactic Puritan poem "The Day of Doom" by Michael Wigglesworth. (Would Henry
Livingston also have had a familiarity with this? or does this sound more
like something one would find in Moore's library)

"Still was the night, serene and bright when all men sleeping lay...... they
rush from beds with giddy heads and to their windows run, viewing this light,
which shines more bright than doth the noonday sun."

According to Restad, lore has it that a house guest of Moore's, Harriet
Butler, copied the poem into her album while visiting and from then on its
public life began. Restad also mentions that a man named Henry West
suggested that Moore was too somber and grave to have written the poem. A
great-grandson of Henry Livingston, William S. Thomas, also made claim that
Livingston was the actual author and Tristam Coffin in his "Book of Christmas
Folklore" 1990, also argues for Livingston's authorship, noting that he was
"a whimsical chap who once swithchwd the lyrics in his music book from 'God
Save the King' to 'God Save Congress' and who produced a steady stream of
light, occasional verse, much of it in the same meter as 'The Night Before

By the way..... Regarding Van Twiller's"Spitzenbergh apple" cheeks.... these
apples were grown abundantly in the Hudson River Valley area, especially near
Esopus. (apparently brought in...or developed by the Dutch settlers). These
old varieties are very hard to find these days but this apple (to my
delight!) is now being grown in Sebastipol CA (not far from where I live). I
found some at a local market this fall and they are truly WONDERFUL! (intense
apple flavor, just slightly tart) My Western Garden book refers to them as
"Esopus Spitzenbergs" and describes them as their favorite variety of apple!

Another interesting aside....... Henry Livingston's great grandaughter
married Samuel F. B. Morse, the inventor. Livingson's home along the Hudson
river in the Hyde Park area, Locust Grove, later became the summer home of
Morse and his wife. It is now an historical site and open to the public as
the Samuel Morse home.

Happy New Year to ALL! :-)


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