Santa's Whiskers


The Book of Saint Nicholas

 James K. Pauling

Born during the Revolutionary War, James Kirke Paulding was 
brother-in-law and a close friend of Washington Irving, with
whom he co-founded the Salmagundi Papers, and he was a
member of the “Knickerbocker group”.

As his obituary in the New York Times points out: “Mr. PAULDING
was born in Dutchess County, in this State, on the 22d of August,
1779, and in the very crisis of the great war of the Revolution.
The red-coats disturbed him in his cradle, his family being
forced to take refuge from the invaders in Westchester County, where the childhood and youth of PAULDING were passed, and where he seems to have received whatever scholastic and regular education he ever enjoyed. Come man’s estate, Mr. PAULDING removed to New-York, then, as now, the City of the Empire State, though not, as now, of the nation; and fell at once into intimate relations with WASHINGTON IRVING, whose elder brother had married PAULDING’s sister.

In January, 1807, under the almost nominal supervision of WILLIAM IRVING, the first number of Salmagundi made its appearance, bearing with it two aspiring young New-Yorkers and their literary fortunes. The wholesome influence which IRVING’s peculiar refinement, patience, and breadth of nature exerted upon the more vehement and less original constitution of his colleague’s mind, is sensibly marked in the papers which PAULDING contributed to this collection.”

Paulding would go on to serve as Secretary of the Navy and achieve fame as an author, but it is his 1836 publication “The Book of Saint Nicholas, Translated From The Original Dutch” that we are interested in. Dedicated to the Saint Nicholas Society of New York the book is a “biography” of Saint Nicholas, and Paulding describes him as “a little rascal with a three-cornered cocked hat, decked with old gold lace, a blue Dutch sort of short pea jacket, red waistcoat, breeks of the same colour, yellow stockings, and honest thick-soled shoes, ornamented with a pair of skates.”

And Paulding goes on to write: "I say, everybody knows the excellent St. Nicholas, in holyday times, goes about among the people in the middle of the night, distributing all sorts of toothsome and becoming gifts to the good boys and girls in this his favourite city. Some say that he comes down the chimneys in a little Jersey wagon; others, that he wears a pair of Holland skates, with which he travels like the wind; and others, who pretend to have seen him, maintain that he has lately adopted a locomotive, and was once actually detected on the Albany railroad [...] My own opinion is, that his favourite mode of travelling is on a canal, the motion and speed of which aptly comport with the philosophic dignity of his character."