Santa's Whiskers

The fictional author "Diedrich Knickerbocker" from the frontispiece of "A History of New-York", a wash drawing by Felix O. C. Darley


A History of New York

Washington Irving

Washington Irving (1783-1859) was an American author, essayist, biographer and historian of the early 1800’s. In late 1809, at the age of 26, he completed work on his first major book: “A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by Diedrich Knickerbocker”. It was a satire on self-important local history and contemporary politics.

Within the pages by the fictional Diedrich Knickerbocker, Irving introduced St. Nicholas as the patron saint of New Amsterdam, describing him as a jolly old Dutchman, nicknamed Sancte Claus, who parked his wagon on rooftops and slid down chimneys with gifts for sleeping children on his feast day. Irving introduced the pipe and the smoke that encircled his head, the significant look and the laying of his finger beside his nose, his ability to fly over the roofs of houses and come down the chimney. Even two of the reindeer names, “Dunder and Blixum”, are to be found in Irving’s work.

But Irving did more than just introduce a Santa Claus figure into our lives. He also promoted a more family centered celebration of the Christmas holiday.

In his five Christmas stories in The Sketch Book (1819) Irving portrayed an idealized celebration of old-fashioned Christmas customs at a quaint English manor that depicted harmonious warm-hearted English Christmas festivities he experienced while staying Aston Hall, Birmingham, England. The book contributed to the revival and reinterpretation of the Christmas holiday in the United States.