Listen to and read long with Fritz Wetherbee's "A Night Before Christmas." Fritz originally performed this piece at WZID's 4th Annual Christmas at the Palace in 2005.
OK, about Santa Claus …
The guy upon whom the Santa legend is based was St. Nicholas, a Roman Catholic Bishop in Asia Minor in the fourth century.
The story goes that he came from a wealthy family. Nick’s parents died in a plague when he was just a kid and the church adopted him.
When he became a priest he gave all his inherited money away.
One story goes that there were these two young ladies who had no dowry.
Back then you had to have a dowry or no one would marry you.
The young priest, Nick, is supposed to have thrown a bag of gold coins through their window on Christmas Eve. The small bag landed in a stocking.
This is why we traditionally put an orange in the toe of our Christmas stocking. It represents that bag of gold.
Also, that’s where the stocking thing comes from.
We say, “Saint Nicholas” or “Saint Nick,” but just as Gertrude can be “Gertie” or “Trudy,” “Nicholas” can be “Nick” or “Claus”. So that’s it; “Saint Claus” … “Santa Claus.”
“Kris Kringle” comes from the Dutch “Christ Kindl,” meaning Christ Child.
Now about our Santa Claus, the Santa Claus we all know and love: the one in the Coca Cola ads … the big guy in the red suit: Is Santa a giant in a red suit?
The main source for how Santa looked is the old “Night Before Christmas …” poem, “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” by Clement Moore.
(And a note here: “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” was not written by Clement Moore; it was written by Major Henry Livingston of Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Mr. Moore passed it off to his own kids as his and they got it published as a surprise to dad. Surprise is right, poor Clement Moore lived with the lie the rest of his life. He is still credited with its authorship.)
“A Visit from St. Nick” nonetheless has the classic description of Santa, so let’s, for a change, pay attention to the words.
T’was the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would
The children were nestled all snug in
While visions of sugarplums danced in
And Mama in her ’kerchief and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long
No heat in the bedrooms back then. Everyone wore headgear to bed.
When out on the lawn there arose
such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what
was the matter.
OK, time to pay attention: “… such a clatter…” There is a noise out there big enough to wake a guy up!
Away to the window I flew like a flash
Tore open the shutters and threw
up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the
Gave a luster of mid-day to objects below.
When what to my wondering eyes
But a miniature sleigh and eight
So, obviously the sleigh was coming across the new-fallen snow. Else why would there have been a clatter?
So the rig is coming across the lawn, leaving tracks in the snow.
Now, a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer. Miniature and tiny are what they mean, the sleigh is no more than three or four feet long. And the reindeer? The reindeer are the size of Chihuahuas!
With a little old driver so lively and quick
I knew in a moment it must be
A little old driver! Get it? Santa is small enough to sit in a miniature sleigh. The guy could only be a couple feet tall.
More rapid than eagles his coursers
And he whistled and shouted, and called them by name;
Now Dasher, now Dancer, now Prancer
On Comet, on Cupid, on Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch, to the top of the wall
Now dash away, dash away, dash away all!
As dry leaves that before the wild
When meet with an obstacle, mount
to the sky.
So up to the housetop his coursers they flew
With a sleigh full of toys and St. Nicholas too.
This is how the sleigh got on the roof, the wind blew it! It did not fly!
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head and was
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came
with a bound.
So the fireplace is there in the folks’ bedroom.
He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
Of course he is dirty, look at the way he got in. Also, he got down the flue because he was so small. Chimney flues back then were large.
And what’s this about all in fur? No red suit?
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening
His eyes how they twinkled, his dimples
His cheeks were like roses, his nose
like a cherry.
His droll little mouth was drawn up
in a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white
as the snow.
The stump of a pipe he held tight
in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head
like a wreath. .
Talk about politically incorrect, this guy smokes (and in a stranger’s house without permission) and he wears fur! This is not an example I would want my child to follow.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl
full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right
jolly old elf
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite
Where do I start? The guy is overweight to boot and … he is an elf! Santa’s helpers may be elves but Santa himself is an elf. Not only that, but the writer of the poem is laughing at him. One does not laugh at a “little person.” Again, politically incorrect!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing
He spoke not a word but went straight
to his work
And filled all the stockings; then turned
with a jerk.
These stockings would be regular sized kids’ hose. The toys would necessarily be small, both to get down the chimney and to fit in the stockings — stuff like yoyos and jackknives and candy.
And laying his finger aside of his nose
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprang to his sleigh; to his team
gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down
on a thistle,
But I heard his exclaim, ere he drove
out of sight
Happy Christmas to all,
and to all a goodnight.
Now, an elf yelling in the night would necessarily have a high voice, not the “Ho, ho, ho” that Santas at the mall do. He sounded more like “Bart Simpson” than “Darth Vader.”
So there you have it; Santa is an elf. He is two feet tall. If you sat in his lap you would injure him.
Santa smokes a lot. Santa wears disgustingly dirty fur clothes. He smells of creosote and he is overweight. He has a high, squeaky voice and when he comes to town his sleigh is so noisy it wakes people up.
Of course, this is all in fun. Santa, as we all know, looks however we want him to look because, as we told Virginia, the old guy is in our hearts.
My Santa looks like Andy Rooney. NH
Fritz originally performed this piece at WZID’s 4th Annual Christmas at the Palace (www.palacetheatre.org) in 2005. Visit www.nhmagazine.com to download the audio files of his recitation and comments.
This article appears in the December 2006 issue of New Hampshire Magazine