Santa's Whiskers

The broadside passed out at the 1810 meeting of the Historical Society.

December 1810

Good Heylig Man

John Pintard

For 150 odd years, probably since the English 
conquest, the favorite winter holiday of New York’s
propertied classes was New Year’s Day. On that
day, families exchanged small gifts, and gentlemen
went about the town calling on friends and
relatives, sipping raspberry brandy and munching
on cookies.

But by the early 1800’s John Pintard was lamenting
the fact that this “joyous older fashion” was dying
out because the size of the growing city was
making it increasingly impractical. And so, in 1810,
Pintard proposed St. Nicholas Day as a
"family-oriented winter holiday for polite society.”

A good friend of Washington Irving, Pintard was an
energetic and influential member of New York
Society who was founder of the New York Historical
Society, active in the building of the Erie Canal, supporter of Clement Moore’s General Theological Seminary, and helped found the American Bible Society, along with many other important city activities.

And so he introduced St. Nicholas as the symbolic patron saint of the Historical Society, which held annual dinners on St. Nicholas Day, December 6. For the Society’s 1810 dinner Pintard commissioned the publication of a broadside containing a picture of St. Nicholas in the form of a rather stern, magisterial bishop, bringing gifts for good children and punishments for bad ones.

​ The first toast at the meeting was to “Sancte Claus, good heylig man!” and Pintard distributed his specially engraved picture that showed Nicholas with two children (one good, one bad) and two stockings hung by the hearth (one full, one empty). The point being that December 6 was a kind of Judgment Day for the young, with the Saint distributing rewards and punishments.