Santa Claus, as it turns out, is a very adaptable fellow. Legends of a generous cleric, Germanic god, Father Christmas or jolly elf, have existed for centuries. The man was usually pictured with a flowing white beard, often carrying a staff, or fir tree and dressed in warm robes. Over the years his attire and girth have changed dramatically. The one constant for the gentleman is his continued concern for children, especially their happiness at Yule tide.
In some lands myths about a kind and giving deity predated Christianity and evolved to suit the prevailing beliefs. Winter celebrations from many cultures contributed to the trappings of the American Christmas. Yule logs, hanging of the stockings, decorating a tree, and of course the flying reindeer all had roots in misty eons past.
The most well known version of the American Santa is attributed to Thomas Nast, a cartoonist in the 1880s whose drawing of a portly, red clad Santa was published in Harper’s Weekly.
Since Claus and helpers were depicted as living at the North Pole, transportation around the world in one night had to be something special and magical. At first Santa could be seen walking through woods and fields with a tree and sack of toys over his shoulder and using a sturdy walking staff. He was somewhat slimmer in his traipsing days. In later years he was at times spotted on the back of a Yule Goat, or riding a white horse.
By the early 1900s postcards showed Santa traveling in the basket of a hot air balloon festooned with toys and holly. Primitive forms of balloon travel had been recorded since the late 1700s. The balloon invention was used for observation during the Civil War in 1861, and again during WWI in 1914. However, to most people a glimpse of humans in the sky was still an incredible sight, almost an unbelievable vision and thus a fitting conveyance for Santa. Several years later St. Nick adorned postcards in a flying machine similar to a zeppelin. The basket was larger, as was the girth of Santa but the same collection of toys and candy were packed to be delivered to children around the globe.
Innovation with wheels and engines led to a nation wide love affair with the automobile. Soon Santa was on postcards being driven to his destinations. No elves at the wheel, but a driver with goggles and dust coat rushed the packed vehicle through the snow. In the attached example a Christmas tree sits proudly on the engine.
Since Santa and Mrs. Clause and their helpers lived at the North Pole it just made sense that occasionally the climate would require Santa to travel by dog sled, the same way natives in the polar region had moved about for centuries. The postcard with dog sled, dated 1913, sends wishes for a Joyous Christmas Tide.
The Christmas season often brings out the best in people and everyone seems to participate in all too fleeting feelings of good will.
One unlikely group to join Noel festivities is NORAD. The North American Aerospace Defense Command. It is a Canadian/American Military Organization whose job is to keep our skies safe. For more than fifty years NORAD has kept track of the progress of Santa Claus as he flies around the world on Christmas Eve.
Christmas is the one time of year when joy is the sole purpose, a time when the world goes bold with spangles and brilliant color and sprinkles the results with starlight. As long as children are allowed to experience the joy of giving, Santa will exist and use whatever conveyance is available, even if he arrives in dreams.
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