Santa Claus as we know him today has actually only existed since the 19th century, and also he first slid down the chimney in a 1812 publication by Washington Irving. But the fireplace offered as a venue because that magical travellers long prior to Santa Claus. During the 15th century, the French scholar Petrus Mamoris came to be concerned around a widespread belief that witches might pass v solid objects prefer walls and closed doors in bespeak to enter homes. Believing christians were giving too much power come the occult, Mamoris available a practical explanation: witches, elves, and also the prefer simply gone into via the chimney. This idea acquired widespread social currency. In Renaissance-era fairy tales, fairies appeared via chimneys, and during the same period, witches were claimed to paris up your chimneys top top broomsticks to to visit Sabbat meetings.

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Throughout european folklore, the hearth and also chimney act as a liminal room connecting the natural and also supernatural worlds. According to legend, numerous supernatural creatures make use of this special intermediary space to get in homes—for an excellent or ill. Scottish and English legend function the brownie, a family spirit the aids in residential tasks, however only at night, and enters and exits via the chimney. In Slovenia, a shape-shifting fairy called the Skrat brings riches to human family members who maintain his favor, flying down the chimney in a fiery type when carrying money. Follow to Celtic lore, a nursery bogie called the bodach sneaks under chimneys and kidnaps children. Some chimney-traveling spirits show up specifically throughout the winter holidays. In Greece, goblins well-known as Kallikantzaroi slip down the chimney to wreak havoc during the Twelve days of Christmas. Italy’s La Befana, sometimes dubbed the Christmas witch, delivers gifts the night prior to Epiphany, leaving her presents in shoes set by the fireplace.

While La Befana wasn’t making prevalent deliveries in the early on United States, various other mythical vacation gift-bringers were. Pelznichol—also referred to as Pelznikel, Belsnickel, or Bellschniggle—traveled amongst German immigrant neighborhoods in 19th-century Pennsylvania, scaring cheeky children and rewarding good ones. This whip-wielding wild male was a bit an ext intimidating than jolly old Santa Claus, however he offered a similar purpose.

According to a December 19, 1827 issue of the Philadelphia Gazette, “He is the precursor that the jolly old elfe ‘Christkindle’ or ‘St. Nicholas,’ and makes his personal appearance, pull in skins or old clothes, his challenge black, a bell, a whip, and also a pocket full of cakes or nuts ... The is no sooner dark 보다 the Bellschniggle’s bell is heard flitting from home to home ... The slips under the chimney, at the fairy hour of midnight, and also deposits his presents quiet in the ready stocking.” Pelznichol comes from the German native pelz, an interpretation hide or hair coat, and also Nichol, meaning Nicholas. Accurate “Furry Nicholas,” Pelznichol was a forerunner to the American Santa Claus—and a mythical companion the the same ancient saint.


While the character of Santa Claus paint, etc from plenty of mythical sources, his namesake is St. Nicholas, the 4th-century Bishop of Myra, an old town in what is currently Turkey. In the most well known tale involving St. Nicholas, the bishop anonymously delivers bags of yellow to a bad family to usage as dowries for their daughters, keeping the dad from offering the girls into prostitution. Early on versions that the story have actually the saint tossing the money with the window—appropriate, provided that St. Nicholas lived during the third and 4th centuries, 900 years before the chimney. However as the story changed over time, St. Nicholas started dropping the gold down the chimney. A 14th-century fresco in a Serbian church mirrors the chimney had become component of the legend by the at an early stage Renaissance period.

Thanks to his generous dowry gifts and a host of miracles—including resurrecting a group of murdered boys who had actually been chopped right into pieces—St. Nicholas came to be the patron saint the children, and his feast day was linked with special treats because that the small ones. Through the 16th century, the was legacy for Dutch youngsters to leave their shoes on the hearth the night before the Feast the St. Nicholas. They would certainly then wake to uncover the pair of shoes filled with candy and also presents, i beg your pardon they believed the saint had actually lowered under the chimney. Despite Catholic saints were renounced throughout the Reformation, St. Nicholas stayed renowned in the low Countries, even amongst some netherlands Protestants, and Dutch settlers carried their legacies to north America.

The name Santa Claus is an Americanized variation of the abbreviation Dutch surname for St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas, yet Dutch colonists did no popularize him, as most of these were saint-averse reformation Dutch, and also their influence waned once brand-new Amsterdam became new York. In 1809, it to be writer Washington Irving who aided spark an interest in St. Nicholas as soon as he featured the saint in his satirical Knickerbocker’s background of brand-new York, which made funny of antiquarians obsessed with the city’s dutch heritage. In an increased version of Knickerbocker’s released in 1812, Irving included a reference—the very first known—to St. Nicholas “rattl down the chimney” himself, rather than just dropping the gift down.

By cutting board Nast, windy Domain, Wikimedia Commons

It to be the renowned poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas”—known as “’Twas the Night before Christmas”—that popularized the idea the Santa Claus tumbling down the chimney. Originally published anonymously, the poem first appeared in publish in 1823 and also it wasn’t till 1844 that Clement Clark Moore, a professor the Hebrew and Oriental language at a holy bible college, claimed the work, despite his authorship is still debated by some. The poem functions Santa Claus descending down the chimney “with a bound,” then rising up the chimney after carrying his gifts. The poem started to be published yearly in newspapers and magazines, and the illustrator and also political cartoonist cutting board Nast cemented that vision that Santa Claus through his drawings of a plump, cheerful, bearded man delivering presents in a sleigh.

Millions of American youngsters came to think that Santa Claus slid under the chimney to provide their presents. But what does Santa execute if there’s no chimney? together coal and also wood stoves take it the ar of open up fireplaces in countless American homes, a parallel heritage developed: Santa squeezed down the oven pipe. By 1857, this picture was usual enough that The brand-new York Times described it as a given.

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It could seem ridiculous to imagine the portly gift-bringer somehow stuffing himself into a six-inch stove pipe, however during the mid-19th century, Santa Claus was envisioned differently in one crucial way: he to be miniature. In his poem, Moore phone call Santa “a jolly old elf,” suggesting his dimension is elfin: the is a “little old driver” in a “miniature sleigh” with “eight tiny reindeer.” He has actually a “droll little mouth,” and it’s his “little ring belly” that “shook as soon as he laughed, choose a bowlful that jelly.”

Illustrations from the time, including plenty of of Nast’s drawings, show a miniature Santa who requirements to stand on a chair to reach the stockings top top the mantelpiece. However while this elfin Santa might slide conveniently down the chimney, even he would have challenge squeezing with a range pipe. In released letters to Santa, some youngsters inquired about his technique of entry: “Do you crawl down range pipes?” of course, Santa Claus is magical, for this reason while children may have been curious about the practicalities involved, it no a obstacle to belief. One boy told Santa confidently in 1903, “I watch because that you every night in the stove.”

By thomas Nast - ‘The invention of Santa Claus’ Exhibit, public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Adults were not as sanguine. In 1893, Harper’s Weekly released a worried opinion piece about the decline of Santa Claus. The cooktop pipe made it harder to believe in Santa, the author observed, but the climb of heavy steam radiators and hot-air heater made it basically impossible:

"We understand of no modern personage who is suffering more from enabling himself come drop behind the times 보다 our friend Santa Claus. <…> The downward food of Santa Claus started with the advent of the cast-iron stove. As long as the old-fashioned fireplace it s long he to be secure. Together the children gathered about this romantic old fraud, toasting your toes while your backs gradually but surely congealed, the story of Santa Claus and his chimney-descending actions seemed completely probable. There was scarcely a single stumbling-block for faith. <…> however after the come of the comfortable albeit unromantic stove, as soon as the son was told of Santa Claus, he just looked at the pipe and also put his tongue in his cheek. Still, that tried to think in him, and also succeeded after a fashion. Then even the stove disappeared in countless households, to be thrived by the steam-radiator or a hot-air feet in the floor. The id of Santa Claus coming under a steam-pipe or up through a register was even much more absurd than the idea of his braving the dimensions of a stove-pipe. <…> currently it occurs to us that every this could have to be avoided if civilization had had actually the wisdom to keep Santa Claus up v the times. <…> as soon as the air-tight cooktop was introduced, a setting of ingress various other than the chimney should have actually been provided."

This author needn’t have actually worried; Americans to be not around to allow Santa Claus disappear from cultural memory. Indeed, together the 20th century dawned, he became only an ext popular, as businesses enlisted him because that copious proclaiming campaigns, choose the well known 1930s Coca-Cola ads draft by bounty Sundblom.

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Additional Sources:Christmas in America: A HistoryConsumer Rites: The to buy & offering of American HolidaysNicholas: The epic Journey from Saint to Santa ClausSanta Claus, critical of the Wild Men: The Origins and Evolution that Saint Nicholas, covering 50,000 Years