As we all know, yes, there is a Santa Claus -- a historical St. Nick, that is -- none other than the great Christian forefather Nicolaus of Myra, Turkey. Moviemaker Kirk Cameron tells his story in "Saving Christmas," this year's surprise Yuletide hit. The film -- predictably denounced by critics, militant atheists and Scrooges nationwide -- has defied its detractors, being held over weeks after its scheduled two-week run, which had to be expanded to additional theaters.
Cameron tells how the true-life Kris Kringle has been revered for centuries for his generosity. What few people realize is that in the year 325, he was one of the bishops bold enough to answer the request of Roman Emperor Constantine and appear at the First Council of Nicaea where he was a staunch defender of the faith and one of the authors of what today is known as the Nicene Creed.
So, what about the claims of journalist Carl M. Cannon, the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics, who says today's jolly old elf was born in the city of Troy, New York?
"Christmas Week 2014 has been fraught with contention in New York, but before we blame the politicians," writes Cannon, "we’d do well to remember that it was in the pages of a New York newspaper that Santa Claus first appeared on these shores some three years before Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence."
What sort of secular revisionist history is this? Is Cannon serious? Yes, and he says Santa Claus was birthed by American politics. What?!?
It is "a matter of historical record that Americans owe their familiarity with St. Nicholas in part to the rivalry between Jefferson’s devotees and the Federalist Party," writes Cannon. It was "in 1823 that an anonymous poem appeared (yes, in a newspaper in New York state) that fleshed out the image of Santa Claus -- the 'right jolly old elf' -- whom children of all ages carry in their heads to this day."
Cannon correctly points out that until then, St. Nicholas had not been associated with reindeer or elves.
Then, Cannon notes that "writing under the satirical pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker," famed American author, essayist, biographer, historian and diplomat Washington Irving, best remembered for his short stories "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," authored a 1809 satirical book that kicked off the American Santa phenomenon.
Irving called it A History of New-York From the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty. "Much of Washington Irving’s satire eluded the author’s audience," writes Cannon. "His readers were simply mesmerized by tales of a guardian saint named Nicholas, who is depicted shimmying down chimneys to give leave presents for children on Christmas Eve. Irving drew on the traditions of early Dutch settlers who had brought with them from Holland tales of 'Sinterklaas' and his sleigh," writes Cannon.
But that was just the beginning of the American version of St. Nick, continues Cannon. Flying reindeer "first make an appearance in 1821 in a volume titled The Children’s Friend, one of the first books published in America," writes Cannon. Then, two years later, "Orville L. Holley, editor of an upstate New York semi-weekly newspaper named the Troy Sentinel, published an anonymous poem titled 'A Visit From St. Nicholas.' You know it by another name, taken from the first line of the poem: '’Twas the Night Before Christmas.'
"Its author was later revealed to be Clement C. Moore, a local theologian and scholar."
Political cartoonist Thomas Nast illustrated the poem -- creating "the image of Saint Nick that dances in our heads to this day," writes Cannon:
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 laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf, And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
And although Kirk Cameron is correct about the historic St. Nicholas, now you know -- as Paul Harvey used to say -- "the rest of the story."