Santa Claus as we recognize him today has actually only existed because the 19th century, and also he very first slid under the chimney in a 1812 publication by Washington Irving. But the fireplace offered as a venue because that magical tourists long prior to Santa Claus. During the 15th century, the French scholar Petrus Mamoris ended up being concerned around a widespread belief that witches could pass v solid objects prefer walls and also closed doors in bespeak to go into homes. Believing believer were giving too lot power come the occult, Mamoris available a useful explanation: witches, elves, and the favor simply gotten in via the chimney. This idea got widespread social currency. In Renaissance-era fairy tales, fairies showed up via chimneys, and also during the very same period, witches were claimed to paris up your chimneys top top broomsticks to attend Sabbat meetings.

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Throughout european folklore, the hearth and chimney act together a liminal an are connecting the natural and also supernatural worlds. Follow to legend, many supernatural creatures make use of this unique intermediary an are to get in homes—for good or ill. Scottish and English legend feature the brownie, a family spirit the aids in residential tasks, but only in ~ night, and enters and exits via the chimney. In Slovenia, a shape-shifting fairy called the Skrat brings wealth to human households who maintain his favor, flying down the chimney in a fiery kind when transferring money. According to Celtic lore, a nursery bogie dubbed the bodach sneaks under chimneys and kidnaps children. Part chimney-traveling spirits show up specifically during the winter holidays. In Greece, goblins known as Kallikantzaroi slip down the chimney come wreak havoc during the Twelve job of Christmas. Italy’s La Befana, sometimes called the Christmas witch, delivers gifts the night prior to Epiphany, leaving her presents in shoes set by the fireplace.

While La Befana no making extensive deliveries in the beforehand United States, various other mythical vacation gift-bringers were. Pelznichol—also referred to as Pelznikel, Belsnickel, or Bellschniggle—traveled among German immigrant neighborhoods in 19th-century Pennsylvania, scaring mischievous children and also rewarding good ones. This whip-wielding wild guy was a bit an ext intimidating than jolly old Santa Claus, however he offered a comparable purpose.

According come a December 19, 1827 concern of the Philadelphia Gazette, “He is the precursor the the jolly old elfe ‘Christkindle’ or ‘St. Nicholas,’ and also makes his personal appearance, pull in skins or old clothes, his confront black, a bell, a whip, and also a pocket complete of cakes or nuts ... It is no sooner dark 보다 the Bellschniggle’s bell is heard flitting from home to residence ... That slips under the chimney, in ~ the fairy hour the midnight, and deposits his presents quiet in the prepared stocking.” Pelznichol comes indigenous the German native pelz, meaning hide or fur coat, and Nichol, definition Nicholas. Literally “Furry Nicholas,” Pelznichol to be a forerunner to the American Santa Claus—and a mythical companion the the same ancient saint.


While the personality of Santa Claus paint, etc from countless mythical sources, his namesake is St. Nicholas, the 4th-century Bishop that Myra, an old town in what is now Turkey. In the most renowned tale including St. Nicholas, the bishop anonymously it is intended bags of gold to a negative family to use as dowries for your daughters, maintaining the dad from selling the girls into prostitution. At an early stage versions of 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. Yet as the story adjusted over time, St. Nicholas started dropping the gold under the chimney. A 14th-century fresco in a Serbian church mirrors the chimney had become part of the legend by the beforehand Renaissance period.

Thanks to his generous dowry gifts and a organize of miracles—including resurrecting a team of murdered guys who had actually been chopped right into pieces—St. Nicholas became the patron saint that children, and also his feast work was associated with distinct treats because that the tiny ones. Through the 16th century, the was legacy for Dutch youngsters to leaving their pair of shoes on the hearth the night before the Feast of St. Nicholas. They would then wake up to find the pair of shoes filled through candy and also presents, which they thought the saint had actually lowered under the chimney. Though Catholic saints were renounced throughout the Reformation, St. Nicholas stayed renowned in the low Countries, even among some netherlands Protestants, and Dutch settlers brought their traditions to phibìc America.

The surname Santa Claus is an Americanized version of the abbreviated Dutch name for St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas, however Dutch homesteaders did not popularize him, as most of these to be 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 helped spark an interest in St. Nicholas as soon as he featured the saint in his satirical Knickerbocker’s background of new York, i m sorry made fun of antiquarians obsessed through the city’s dutch heritage. In an expanded version of Knickerbocker’s released in 1812, Irving included a reference—the first known—to St. Nicholas “rattl down the chimney” himself, rather than merely dropping the gift down.

By cutting board Nast, windy Domain, Wikimedia Commons

It was the renowned poem “A Visit indigenous St. Nicholas”—known as “’Twas the Night before Christmas”—that popularized the idea of Santa Claus tumbling down the chimney. Originally published anonymously, the poem very first appeared in publish in 1823 and also it wasn’t until 1844 that Clement Clark Moore, a professor of Hebrew and Oriental languages at a scriptures college, declared the work, though his authorship is still discussed by some. The poem functions Santa Claus descending under the chimney “with a bound,” then rising up the chimney after moving his gifts. The poem started to be published each year in newspapers and also magazines, and the illustrator and political cartoonist cutting board Nast cemented that is vision that Santa Claus through his drawings of a plump, cheerful, bearded man delivering presents in a sleigh.

Millions the American children came to believe that Santa Claus slid down the chimney to provide their presents. However what go Santa do if yes sir no chimney? together coal and wood stoves take it the location of open fireplaces in numerous American homes, a parallel tradition developed: Santa squeezed under the stove pipe. By 1857, this picture was typical enough the The new York Times described it together a given.

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It might seem ridiculous to imagine the portly gift-bringer in which method stuffing himself right into a six-inch cooktop pipe, yet during the mid-19th century, Santa Claus was envisioned differently in one key way: he was miniature. In his poem, Moore phone call Santa “a jolly old elf,” suggesting his size is elfin: that is a “little old driver” in a “miniature sleigh” v “eight tiny reindeer.” He has actually a “droll tiny mouth,” and it’s his “little ring belly” the “shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.”

Illustrations from the time, including numerous of Nast’s drawings, display a miniature Santa who needs to was standing on a chair to with the stockings ~ above the mantelpiece. But while this elfin Santa might slide easily down the chimney, also he would certainly have challenge squeezing through a stove pipe. In published letters come Santa, some children inquired about his method of entry: “Do friend crawl down cooktop pipes?” the course, Santa Claus is magical, therefore while children may have actually been curious around the practicalities involved, it no a barrier to belief. One young told Santa confidently in 1903, “I watch for you every night in the stove.”

By cutting board Nast - ‘The innovation of Santa Claus’ Exhibit, windy Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Adults were no as sanguine. In 1893, Harper’s Weekly released a worried opinion piece about the decrease of Santa Claus. The stove pipe made it harder to believe in Santa, the writer observed, but the increase of steam radiators and hot-air heater made it essentially impossible:

"We recognize of no contemporary personage who is suffering more from permitting himself come drop behind the times than our friend Santa Claus. <…> The downward food of Santa Claus began with the development of the cast-iron stove. As long as the old-fashioned fireplace lasted he was secure. Together the children gathered roughly this romantic old fraud, toasting their toes while your backs gradually however surely congealed, the story of Santa Claus and also his chimney-descending actions seemed entirely probable. There to be scarcely a solitary stumbling-block for faith. <…> but after the arrival of the comfortable albeit unromantic stove, once the kid was called of Santa Claus, he simply looked in ~ the pipe and also put his tongue in his cheek. Still, the tried to believe in him, and also succeeded after ~ a fashion. Then also the oven disappeared in countless households, to be prospered by the steam-radiator or a hot-air feet in the floor. The id of Santa Claus coming under a steam-pipe or up v a it is registered was even more absurd 보다 the idea of his braving the dimensions of a stove-pipe. <…> currently it wake up to us that every this could have to be avoided if people had had the wisdom to keep Santa Claus up with the times. <…> when the air-tight stove was introduced, a setting of ingress other than the chimney should have actually been provided."

This writer needn’t have worried; Americans to be not about to allow Santa Claus disappear from social memory. Indeed, together the 20th century dawned, he came to be only much more popular, together businesses enlisted him because that copious heralding campaigns, favor the renowned 1930s Coca-Cola ads draft by haddon Sundblom.

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