It’s Christmas week! Many children are waiting for Santa to come on December 24! Do you think children in the year 1875 waited for Santa? For kids living in houses like the Flynn Mansion or the Tangen Home, kids might indeed be waiting for Santa! 140 years ago, many Iowa children celebrated Christmas with a visit from Santa. He would bring gifts of candy or small toys, leaving them in stockings on Christmas Eve. Some children—especially if they had moved to Iowa from places like Germany or Holland might have a different name for Santa. They might have called him Kris Kringle or St. Nicolas or maybe SinterKlaas. For these children, St. Nicolas sometimes came on December 6. This is the feast day of St. Nicolas.
How do we know what Santa Claus looks like? Well, two men who lived in the 1800s helped kids get an idea of what Santa should look like. One man wrote a very famous poem about Santa. In 1822, Clement Clarke Moore wrote a poem for his children about a magical visitor who brought presents every year on Christmas Eve. The poem was published in first a newspaper in 1823 and later a book. I bet you know that poem. It starts “Twas the before Christmas and all through the house . . .” This was one of the first descriptions of Santa. It told us he wore fur “from his head to his foot” and that he was a “jolly old elf”. This was also the first place a writer described Santa as having “eight tiny reindeer” and what their names were. Can you name all of these reindeer? This was before Rudolph joined the team. When the poem was first placed into a book, several drawings were made of Santa Claus. At that time, the artist thought he looked like this!
In the 1860s, another famous artist made more drawings of Santa Claus. This artist’s name was Thomas Nast. He drew cartoons about politicians in New York City for a magazine called Harper’s Weekly. He drew his first Santa Claus for them in 1863. The picture showed Santa Claus in a coat of stars handing out presents to Union soldiers during the Civil War. Mr. Nast drew pictures of Santa Claus almost every year into the 1880s. Mr. Nast’s drawings helped us understand that Santa Claus kept a list of naughty and nice children, that he lived at the North Pole, and that he had elves to help him make toys. Mr. Nast’s drawings also helped children know they should write letters to Santa telling him what they wanted for Christmas! Mr. Nast’s Santa Claus drawing looked like this!
Do you leave out cookies and milk for Santa Claus? No one is exactly sure how long children have been leaving cookies for Santa. Some people say that St. Nicolas began snacking on the gingerbread ornaments decorating German Christmas trees back in the middle ages. Some people say Santa started snacking on cookies left out for him by children in the 1930s. No one is quite sure. But just in case you and your family were going to bake cookies for Santa or other friends this week, here is one of our very favorite spice cookie recipes! At Living History Farms, we usually bake this cookie in a wood-burning stove. It will taste very good after being baked in a modern oven too! This is a traditional nineteenth century cookie recipe that is a favorite of our historic kitchens. Spice cookies and shortbreads were common kinds of “comfort” food cookies for the 19th century, rather than today’s chocolate chip or peanut butter varieties.
¾ cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
4 Tbls. molasses
2 tsp soda
½ tsp salt
2 cups flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
½ tsp cloves
Cream butter; add sugar, egg, and molasses. Sift dry ingredients together and add to butter mixture. Drop onto greased cookie sheet and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 350 degrees. Keep in airtight canister for crisp cookies, cookie jar for soft cookies.
Have a very Merry Christmas from all of us at Living History Farms!