The Santa Claus School

This has nothing to do with literature, well, that is almost nothing. It does connect with a beloved children’s poem but to suggest anything more would be pushing it. Some things are just worth noting .

On this day in 1937 the first Santa Claus school opened  in Albion, New York. It was the brain child of a man named Charles W. Howard who gained fame as the most recognized and Iconic figure of the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, Santa Claus (1948 – 1965). It was through this portrayal of the gift giving Christmas Saint America came to be familiar with even though he could not be found at the flagship store in New York City, rather he spent his Christmas season in Kansas City, MO. Although he was chosen to act as coordinator for the film Miracle on 34th Street (1947).

   Charles Howard was not the first man to don the infamous red suit. In the city of Brockton, Massachusetts (1890) Department Store Owner and local philanthropist James Edgar adapted the popular Thomas Nast Images of Santa Clause, which were themselves inspired by the famous poem A visit from Saint Nicholas written by New York Knickerbocker, Clement Clark Moore (or as some accounts vary by a man named Henry Livingston) into a costume which he initially wore around his own store and later on walks across Brockton.  His reasoning was simple and profound and would have far reaching ramifications.

“I have never been able to figure out why the great gentleman lives at the North Pole. He is so far away. He is only able to see children once a year. He should live closer to them”. – James Edgar.

   The above quote may be apocryphal but it does illustrate how important Santa Claus was becoming in America. Of course when dealing with Department Store Santa’s one can never deny the iconic power of the gift giving saint in terms of marketing and product placement. Santa Claus himself, or at least that part of him connected to the real life bishop from Myra proved no less adept at navigating the complexities of global marketing placement and we must not forget how important  was his image to one of the world most well know products, Coca-Cola.

   By the turn of the century the image of Santa Claus had become a well established and a cherished part of the holiday season.  So much so that while in the fourth grade a young Charles Howard could wear a home-made Santa Claus costume in a school play. Recognition can be measured by how often and how easily people mimic a particular figure and in the case of Santa Claus that mimicry is nearly boundless. From C.C. Moore to L. Frank Baum, from the pages of a book to movie theaters across the country, from Department stores to Salvation Army Bell Ringers Santa Claus can be found everywhere and at all times of the year.

 Charles W. Howard grew up and learned a trade, toy making, which should come as no surprise for the man who would be Santa. He created a line of “sturdy toys” for the Medina toy company, became deeply involved in local events, a special favorite of his was a contest for the world largest pie and of course he continued to develop his portrayal of Santa Claus. Howard had played Santa at his local Methodist church for a several years, as well as local furniture store but as his reputation grew he would step up to  Department stores, first in his home town of Albion, NY  then in Rochester, NY and soon across the United States. As mentioned earlier he was the official Santa Claus for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York city from 1948 to 1965 and the store Santa in Kansas City, MO and near the end of his life in Texas.

   Everyone knows Santa Claus. But how does one become Santa? This was a question that needed an answer and so at the urging of a local reporter Howard opened the first School for Santa Claus with a simple belief which held Santa Clause does not enter through the chimney, he enters through the heart. It was with this in mind that the school began teaching students the fine arts of being Santa, from gift wrapping and story telling to rudimentary child psychology, all aimed at honoring the idea of Christmases most enduring and popular icon. Today there are many schools devoted to Santa Claus, in the US and around the world. Other men have contributed to the enduring presence of Santa, Jim Yellig being one example There have been amusement parks with resident Santa’s nearly as well-known as Howard and of course all children have their own special fond memories of moments spent of the lap of the benevolent giver of gifts and love but there is only one original Santa Claus School, and only one Original Charles W. Howard.

While it would be incorrect to suggest Charles W. Howard’s portrayal of Santa Clause was an all-consuming endeavor there can be no doubt that he deeply believed in what he was doing, in the value of his self-appointed mission and in the goodness which Santa Claus represents in a way unlike any other. Belief…One word perhaps sums it up better than anything. Belief in a simple thing really.

“To say there is no Santa Claus is the most erroneous statement in the world. Santa Claus is a thought that is passed from generation to generation. After time this thought takes on a human form. Maybe if all children and adults understand the symbolism of this thought we can actually attain Peace on Earth and good will to men everywhere.” – Charles W. Howard


The Battle for Christmas by Stephen Nissenbaum

Nicholas: The Epic Journey from Saint to Santa Claus  by Jeremy Seal

This entry was posted in Christmas, History of Children's Literature, L. Frank Baum, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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