By Janet Klug
In case you haven't noticed, Christmas is coming. Among other things, that means the most famous man on Earth will be paying nocturnal visits to the homes of good little boys and girls all over the world. He has gifts for them all, but how he manages to make his miraculous deliveries on Christmas Eve is still a mystery.
The famous man is known in the United States as "Santa Claus," but he goes by many names, depending on where you are in the world. His image has appeared on thousands of stamps from many different countries.
The name Santa Claus derives from Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children, pawnbrokers and a few other surprising groups of people.
In the Netherlands and countries where Dutch is spoken, St. Nicholas is called Sinterklaas. It is from the Dutch name "Sinterklaas" that the United States gets Santa Claus.
Figure 1 shows the 1961 Netherlands Sinterklaas semipostal (Scott B358), showing Sinterklaas dressed as a bishop.
Nicholas was indeed the bishop of Myra in Turkey in the 4th century. His good acts earned him sainthood, but facts and legends have muddled Saint Nicholas' history, due in large part to early 19th century children's literature.
In 1821, a children's book titled The Children's Friend was published in the United States. It was a poem about Santa Claus, who arrived from the North in a sleigh with a flying reindeer. The illustrations in this book, which is said to be the first fully illustrated lithographed book published in America, changed Saint Nicholas' bishop's garb into something more secular.
Two years later, Dr. Clement Moore wrote a poem titled "A Visit from Saint Nicholas" that further molded Saint Nicholas into the modern-day version of Santa Claus. He was described as a jolly, old elf dressed all in fur and traveled in a sleigh powered by eight tiny reindeer.
The 8¢ stamp in Figure 2 depicts Saint Nicholas as described in Moore's "A Visit from Saint Nicholas." Issued in 1972, this was the first U.S. postage stamp to show an image of Santa Claus (Scott 1472).
In 1863, political cartoonist Thomas Nast's picture of Santa Claus, dressed in a fur-trimmed costume of stars and stripes while visiting battle-weary Civil War troops, appeared in the magazine Harper's Weekly. The Nast images of Santa reinforced Moore's splendid description of the jolly old elf. By the 1880s everyone around the world had a good idea of what Saint Nicholas/Santa Claus really looked like, thanks to Clement Moore and Thomas Nast.
Santa/Saint Nicholas is not the most popular name for our "most famous man on Earth." Much of the world calls him Father Christmas. Children in the United Kingdom and nearly all of the British Commonwealth eagerly await the arrival of Father Christmas.
Figure 3 is a 1997 British stamp (Scott 1776) showing Father Christmas engaging in the British Christmas tradition of pulling a cracker with two small children.
In Italy, Father Christmas is Babbo Natale. The 1999 Italian stamp (Scott 2314) in Figure 4 shows Babbo Natale. Finland partnered with Italy that year to issue joint Christmas stamps, and their version of the same stamp (1117) shows Joulupukki (Father Christmas).
In South Africa he is Vader Kersfees. Lithuania calls him Kaledu Senelis, and in Denmark he is known as Julemanden.
Saint Nicholas/Santa Claus/Father Christmas also goes by other names.
He is called Viejo Pascuero (Old Man Christmas) in Chile. Figure 5 shows Viejo Pascuero dashing around, trying to get all of the gifts delivered and clearly working up a sweat that needs to be cooled in front of a fan. This block of four Chilean stamps (Scott 1488) was issued in 2007.
Like Chile, China calls its Santa figure a similar "Christmas Old Man." Similar in meaning to Chile's name for Santa, it is not similar sounding: Dun Che Lao Ren. In Russia he is Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost). Grandfather Frost is shown on a Russian stamp issued in 2005 in Figure 6 (Scott 6927).
In Japan, Santa Claus is Hoteiosho (gift-bearing priest). In 2006, Japan issued stamps that depict Hoteiosho as both a bear and a cat, as shown in Figures 7 and 8.
No matter what you and your favorite children call Santa Claus, I hope he brings you a Merry Christmas.
For more information about collecting Christmas subjects on stamps, contact the Christmas Philatelic Club, Box 744, Geneva, OH 44041; or visit the club website at http://web.295.ca/cpc.
August 01, 2015 07:37 PMIt didn’t take long for the doom-and-gloomers to weigh in with their prognostications following the July 24 announcement from the American Philatelic Society that it hired former political aide Scott English to be the next executive director of the nation’s largest stamp club. Read More ›
July 30, 2015 08:04 PMIn the Editor’s Insights columns in the July 20 Linn’s Stamp News monthly and the Aug. 10 weekly Linn’s, I mentioned Linn’s Editorial Advisory Board without giving too much detail. Linn’s goal is to engage its audience both in print and online and to grow this audience. The role of the newly formed Linn’s Editorial Advisory Board is to assist us achieving these goals by keeping us focused on the needs of our audience and helping us adapt to today’s market. Read More ›
July 30, 2015 09:01 AMAs in previous years, Rarities Week, the series of sales conducted June 22-26 by Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries in New York, included several name sales as well as an assortment of notable items from around the world. The week kicked off with something of a do-over: a sizable assortment of better United States stamps and covers that had appeared in four previous sales, but whose winning bidder then failed to pay for them. Read More ›
July 23, 2015 04:35 PMThe Tieton, Wash., post office is a simple 1935 cement block building with a slat wood facade. Townsfolk in the agricultural community of 1,200 in central Washington believe the post office could become a landmark, if only the United States Postal Service would allow them to cover the front with a stamp-like mosaic. Read More ›
Watch as Linn’s senior editor Denise McCarty discusses the hiring of a new executive director of the American Philatelic Society, the new Linn’s Editorial Advisory Board and the upcoming APS Stampshow.
Watch as Scott catalog senior editor Marty Frankevicz discusses the largest souvenir card produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The card is one of three issued to honor the centenary of San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition.
Watch as Linn’s Stamp News associate editor Michael Baadke discusses Canada’s recently recalled $1.20 Dinosaur Provincial Park stamps featuring inaccurately described Hoodoo rock formations.
Watch as Linn’s Stamp News editorial director Donna Houseman discusses the discovery of another pane of the intentionally created upright variety of the $2 Jenny Invert stamp.
It is always a treat to get to see stamp dealers’ own collections.
In the recently concluded Linn’s United States Stamp Popularity Poll, the Circus Posters set of eight stamps was chosen as the overall favorite issue of 2014.
Dispersal of the splendid Daniel B. Curtis collection continued March 25, with Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries gaveling items from United States back-of-the-book and possessions.
The 175th anniversary of the first postage stamp, Great Britain's Penny Black, is May 6, but the stamp was placed on sale May 1, 1840, for mailers to use beginning on May 6, the designated issue date.