Christmas in Cooperstown and Templeton: The Coopers and the Invention of an American Holiday Tradition

Allan M. Axelrad (California State University, Fullerton)

Presented at the 14ᵗʰ Cooper Seminar, James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art at the State University of New York College at Oneonta, July, 2003.

Originally published in James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art, Papers from the 2003 Cooper Seminar (No. 14), The State University of New York College at Oneonta. Oneonta, New York. Hugh C. MacDougall, editor. (pp. 7-18).

Copyright © 2005, James Fenimore Cooper Society and the College at Oneonta.

[May be reproduced for instructional use by individuals or institutions; commercial use prohibited.]

In 1897, responding to a question from a little girl, a New York Sun editorial began, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” 1 While this might be self-evident to small children today, most of the Christmas rituals we take for granted, as well as our beloved Christmas icon, Santa Claus, have had a surprisingly short history. Christmas as we know it is an invented tradition. For much of American history there had been a battle over Christmas, as well as a battle over which winter holiday to celebrate. 2 Through a good part of the nineteenth century, the outcome was still uncertain. The Sun editorial might be seen as that symbolic moment when the long battle over Christmas finally ended. Three-quarters of a century earlier, James Fenimore Cooper had entered the fray in his 1823 novel, The Pioneers; a generation later his daughter, Susan Fenimore Cooper, also had participated in her 1850 journal, Rural Hours. In this paper, I want to examine what these books had to say about Christmas and how they contributed to the larger battle over the winter holidays.

On March 3, 1850, James wrote a letter to his wife frankly “expressing” his impression of their daughter Susan’s forthcoming book, Rural Hours. “It is not strong perhaps,” he told her, “but is so pure, and so elegant, so very feminine and charming that I do not doubt, now, of its eventual success.” 3 He was concerned that the book’s lack of masculine strength and vigor might hamper its immediate “success.” However, his concerns were quickly put to rest, with the fourth edition appearing by the time he died in 1851. Rural Hours examines the world of nature and human activity in and around the village of Cooperstown for a period of one year, following the cycle of seasons — spring, summer, autumn, winter — based on journals Susan kept in 1848 and 1849. 4

The first anticipation of Christmas occurs in a journal entry on a warm December 19th. Out walking, Susan encounters “a cart standing in the woods” filled “with Christmas greens” for her “parish church.” By December 21ˢᵗ it is “snowing a little; we may yet have sleighing for Christmas,” she hopes. 5 Susan continues with a description of “female industry” (272) in preparation for Christmas. “It is a very busy time within doors,” she writes, for “the activity in the rural housekeeper’s department is now at its height.” A variety of “important labors connected with Christmas cheer are going on. Cake-jars are filling up with crullers, flat, brown, and crisp; with dough-nuts, dark, full, and round”; and also “raisined olecokes.” “Waffles, soft and hard, make their appearance on the tea-tables; mince-pies, with their heavy freight of rich materials, are getting underway; and cranberries are preparing for tarts” (270-71). “Calves’-head soup and calves’-foot jellies are under consideration,” she points out, and she notes that turkeys and ducks “are fattening in the poultry-yards,” while “inquiries” are made after game birds and fish from the lake. The “activity in the rural housekeeper’s department is now at its height,” she observes. “But at this busy season, during these Christmas preparations,” she continues, “the female Vatel is supported and cheered by a sort of holiday feeling which pervades the whole house; there is a dawn of the kindliness and good-will belonging to Christmas perceptible in kitchen and pantry; the eggs are beaten more briskly, the sugar and butter are stirred more readily, and the mince-meat chopped more heartily than on any other occasion during the year” (271). Unlike François Vatel, steward to Prince de Condé, who committed suicide when the fish arrived late for a meal for Louis XIV, 6 the American “female Vatel” is unflappable, when occasionally, for example, “pies are a little burnt” and “the turkey proves rather tough” (271).

After describing the preparation of traditional holiday fare, Susan turns to other “Christmas tasks.” “Greens are put up in some houses,” she writes. And, of course, “Santa Claus must also be looked after.” Santa’s “pouch and pack must be well filled for the little people,” she explains, with “this or that nursery-book,” “sugar-plums and candies,” “puppets and toys.” She gives special emphasis to the appeal of home-made dolls, “such as those huge babies of cotton and linen” with “pretty painted faces, and soft, supple limbs.” The “’rag-babies’” or, more properly, ” Moppets,” she notes, “are always pets with little mammas,” for “no other dolls are loved so dearly” as these (271). But it is not just adult women who make Christmas presents; she notes that “many little slips of womankind are now busily engaged upon some nice piece of work,” with “bags, purses, slippers, mittens, what-nots” all “getting a more finished look every hour” (272). Whether by grownups or children, it is female handicraft that Susan celebrates as Christmas nears.

“It is snowing decidedly,” Susan writes on December 22ⁿᵈ. “We shall doubtless have sleighing for the holidays.” The next day, December 23ʳᵈ, winter is out “in its true colors at last.” It is a picture postcard day. “Merry bells are jingling through the village streets.” There are “cutters and sleighs with gay parties dashing rapidly about.” Wintry weather makes Christmas magic possible. “It is well for Santa Claus that we have snow,” she writes. “If we may believe Mr. [Clement Clark] Moore, who has seen him nearer than most people, he travels in a miniature sleigh ‘with eight tiny rein-deer’” 7 (272).

Susan provides a history of Santa Claus. She begins by tracing Santa back to the earliest history of “the island of Manhattan, when he first alighted, more than two hundred years ago, on the peaked roofs of New Amsterdam, and made his way down the ample chimneys of those days.” It was in the old Dutch colony that “Santa Claus” thus commenced his career as “a funny, jolly little Dutchman” (273), she states. Yet there “is a sort of vague, moonlight mystery still surrounding the real identity of the old worthy” (274-75), Susan admits. “Most of us are satisfied with the authority of pure unalloyed tradition going back to the burghers of New Amsterdam,” she continues, “more especially now that we have the portrait by Mr. [Robert] Weir, and the verses of Professor Moore, as confirmation of nursery lore.” But “here and there,” she points out, there appears “a ray of light” leading back “many hundred years ago, in the age of Constantine,” to “a saintly Bishop by the name of Nicholas.” He would later become a “patron” for “seamen,” she writes, surmising that “it was through some connection” with “nautical” people “that he acquired such influence in the nurseries of Holland.” She notes that in Holland the “festival of St. Nicholas fell on the 6ᵗʰ of December.” There “the children, in the little hymn they used to sing in his honor, were permitted to address him as ‘ goedt heyligh man’-good holy man,” Susan explains, reciting the opening of a “Sancte Claus”/“Saint Nicholas” poem printed in Dutch and English by John Pintard in 1810. She recognizes “it was not so much at Christmas, as on the eve of his own festival,” December 6ᵗʰ, that “Sanctus Klaas, or St. Nicholas” was “supposed to drive his wagon over the roofs, and down the chimneys, to fill little people’s stockings” (275). She thus observes: “Strange indeed has been the two-fold metamorphosis”; he began as an “Asiatic bishop” and was transformed into “a sturdy, kindly, jolly old burgher of Amsterdam, half Dutchman, half ‘spook’” (276). However odd his lineage, Susan nonetheless locates Santa in a great tradition reaching back from mid-nineteenth-century New York to the early Dutch colony, across the Atlantic to Holland, and into the ancient past in Asia Minor.

Her next entry is “Monday, 25ᵗʰ, Christmas-day.” “Christmas must always be a happy, cheerful day,” she affirms; for even when the “sky” is “cloudy” and “dull,” the “bright fires, the fresh and fragrant greens, the friendly gifts, and words of good-will, the ‘Merry Christmas’ smiles,” create “a warm glow” and “humble” backdrop “for the exalted associations of the festival, as it is celebrated in solemn, public worship, and kept by the hearts of believing Christians” (276-77). For Susan, the religious context is uppermost, for it is a time to “celebrate” the meaning of “the Nativity of the Prince of Peace” in pious devotion and with “deeds of charity to the poor and afflicted” (280). Next, she says, is the importance placed on children. “Other religions have scarcely heeded children,” she states, yet “Christianity bestows on them an especial blessing.” The “unfeigned, unalloyed gayety” of children makes “Christmas merry,” she concludes (281).

This presentation of Christmas in Cooperstown in mid-nineteenth-century America in Rural Hours is very appealing and in many ways quite familiar, recalling for us Currier and Ives’ snow-covered village scenes and sleigh rides, Norman Rockwell genres of family festival gatherings, and countless Christmas card illustrations. Though store-bought goods have mostly replaced craft activity, as in Rural Hours, the domestic production of Christmas today is mostly women’s work, creating a delightful and enchanting holiday especially for children. And of course there is Santa Claus, the quintessential American elf, celebrated in song and story, deeply rooted in America’s past. For many today, as for the author of Rural Hours, Christmas is a long standing, wonderful American holiday tradition that combines Christian piety and family values with special attention to the magical world of childhood. It is hard to imagine America without Santa Claus and Christmas presents; the feeling today, as well as the general sense of Rural Hours, is that Christmas as we know it has been with us forever. Yet Rural Hours also contains some information that contradicts this impression.

After December 25ᵗʰ, there is no further mention of Christmas in Susan’s journal until January 1ˢᵗ. She reports that some Christmas and New Year’s activities are duplicated or interchanged. “In this part of the world we have a double share of holiday presents,” she explains, “generous people giving at New Year’s, as well as Christmas. The village children run from house to house wishing ‘Happy New Year,’ and expecting a cookie, or a copper, for the compliment.” Earlier she had noted that “spicy New Year cookies” are standard Christmas fare (271). While most of the churches in Cooperstown are closed for Christmas, the shops are open, and the shops remain open on New Year’s Day as well. On New Year’s Day, she writes, children and “a few grown women” go “in and out” of village “shops,” often receiving “some trifle, a handful of raisins, or nuts; a ribbon, or a remnant of cheap calico” (283). In the eighteenth century, New Year’s was a important New York holiday. Cookies were given as gifts, often by merchants. 8 Even in the middle of the nineteenth century, Christmas still was not the uncontested, supreme American gift-giving holiday that it would later become. At this time, merchants frequently advertised gifts for the “winter holidays”; this included Christmas and New Year’s, and sometimes St. Nicholas Day, December 6 ᵗʰ 9 In Susan’s recitation of Moore’s poem, St. Nick does his work on “the night before Christmas” as we expect. But in some versions of the poem, he does his work “the night before New Year.” As a result, Santa complained that he had to work two nights each year, people often joked. 10

The competition among holidays for Santa’s favors seems a bit odd for a figure presumably deeply rooted in American tradition; so too is Susan’s defense of Santa’s legitimacy and integrity against people who revile him with “harsh language,” who “call him an impostor,” and “even accuse him of being” the “enemy” of American children (273). She likens Santa to characters in children’s fairy tales; they provide enchantment, but children know that they are make-believe. She thus concludes, “there is no more danger that the children should believe in the positive existence of Santa Claus,” than “their believing the Christmas-tree to grow out of the tea-table” (274). Susan was not prepared to completely embrace the modern childhood fantasy, epitomized by the Sun editorial assurance, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” Santa Claus, in the Christmas ritual that she supported, was understood by everybody — old and young — to be make-believe. Susan assumed that Santa evolved out of a Dutch colonial St. Nicholas tradition, citing, for example, a “Memoir” by “Judge [Egbert] Benson” — who was “well known to the old New Yorkers as the highest authority upon all Dutch chapters” (275) — as a reliable source of the Santa Claus-St. Nicholas-Dutch connection.

Contrary to what Susan thought and what was generally regarded as received knowledge well into the twentieth century, there is no evidence of St. Nicholas in the Dutch colony or in any other colony until the eve of the American Revolution. 11 The first American reference to “St. Nicholas, otherwise called St. a Claus,” 12 was in New York in Rivington’s Gazetteer in December 1773; soon forgotten, he did not reappear in America until 1793. 13 In truth, the St. Nicholas who became our modern Santa Claus, was the inspiration of a group of New Yorkers, most notably John Pintard, Washington Irving, James Kirke Paulding, and Gulian C. Verplanck, who were associated with the New-York Historical Society in the early years of the nineteenth century. St. Nicholas became the patron saint of the New York Historical Society, founded by Pintard in 1804. 14 In 1808, Irving’s and Paulding’s Salmagundi mentioned “St. Nicholas, vulgarly called Santeclaus,” in conjunction with traditional New Year’s cookies. 15 This was followed by Diedrich Knickerbocker’s A History of New York, From the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, published by Irving on St. Nicholas Day, December 6, 1809, 16 and dedicated to the New-York Historical Society. Irving created the myth of St. Nicholas in New Amsterdam, giving us Santa Claus alighting on rooftops with horse and wagon, and sliding down chimneys laden with St. Nicholas Day gifts. 17 After 1809, in the words of Charles W. Jones, “the spritely” Santa Claus “spread like a plague.” 18 Several years later, in response to the proliferation of these tales, Samuel Wood published False Stories Corrected, taking to task the “foolish stories” of “Old Santaclaw” that “little children hear” about “cakes, nuts, [and] money” brought “down [the] Chimney in the night” and stuffed in “stockings.” 19 But a magical figure that landed on rooftops and slid down chimneys bearing gifts for children for St. Nicholas Day or New Year’s was not a Christmas problem. In the 1810s, Santa still had no connection to Christmas. The real problem for New Yorkers as the nineteenth century unfolded was how to celebrate winter holidays and what to make of Christmas.

“Some people,” Susan informs us in Rural Hours, have “a false conception” of the greeting, Merry Christmas, supposing “it to convey the idea of disorder, and riot, and folly” (277). Traditionally, the winter holiday season coincided with the conclusion of the agricultural cycle. With the harvest in, the pork slaughtered, the wine and beer properly aged, in the British Isles and colonial America it was a time of eating and drinking, but also of disorderly and promiscuous behavior. During Christmas misrule the social hierarchy was turned upside down. Men dressed like women, women like men, the young aped their elders; and wassailers, troops of lower class boys and young men, marched into upper class homes, regaling the inhabitants with drinking songs, while demanding treats in return. In an older, preindustrial rural order, it was the season for letting off steam and making merry. 21 The socio-economic dynamics of the Victorian world that Susan inhabited were quite different. Yet even at midcentury, for some, Christmas had a bad reputation. In the cities where Susan’s books were published, Philadelphia and New York, Christmas excess was notorious. Young men and boys roamed the streets, drinking was heavy; merry making periodically degenerated into mob behavior and violence. 21 n Rural Hours, Susan sought to counter an image of Christmas merry making acted out in public in the streets and taverns, with an image of a merry Christmas practiced at home or in church, substituting middle class domesticity and Christian piety for lower class male camaraderie and impropriety. As an advocate for a wholesome and pious Victorian Christmas, Susan goes into a lengthy exegesis of the biblical meaning of mirth and merry, as in “Merry Christmas,” to contest the belief that “anything unbecoming, or evil, is implied by the words mirth and merry” on “this holy day” when “the Nativity of the Prince of Peace” is celebrated. ” Merry“ is applied to feasting in Genesis” and ” mirth is applied to laughter in the book of Proverbs,” she points out, further augmenting her case with numerous examples from the Old Testament and the New Testament. “It is, in good sooth, Merry Christmas!” she exclaims. “Let us,” she exhorts, “with every return of the festival, gladly and heartily wish our neighbor, all fellow-Christians, the whole broad world, a right ‘Merry Christmas’” (277-80).

Merry Christmas and Christmas merrymaking in America have had a long history of celebration and resistance. The Revolutionary Period witnessed the elimination of British holidays such as King Charles’ Martyrdom, St. George’s Day, King Charles’ Restoration, and Powder Plot. 22 But there were no American national holidays to fill the void. In the late eighteenth century, Christmas was celebrated in a variety of ways by different groups in different places, and sometimes not celebrated at all. Christmas did not include Christmas trees, Santa Claus, or stockings with presents for children, key ingredients of the future national holiday. Some Americans celebrated Christmas in church; some variously by feasting, drinking, and sporting activities; and others followed the tradition of misrule. Unlike Christmas in Cooperstown in Rural Hours, all of these were public affairs, not private family practices. 23

This can be seen in The Pioneers, James Fenimore Cooper’s fictionalized account of early Cooperstown. Christmas in 1793 in The Pioneers is very different from Christmas in 1850 in Rural Hours, even though both describe holiday observance in the author’s hometown within his lifetime. The rituals in The Pioneers are public, not private; and the participants are primarily adult males, not women, children, and families.

The Pioneers was begun late in 1821 and published early in 1823. While at work on his novel, James reviewed two books about country life: Washington Irving’s Bracebridge Hall and Catherine Maria Sedgwick’s A New-England Tale. His reviews shed light on what he hoped to accomplish and also avoid in the novel he was writing. Despite “much genuine humour,” “many picturesque discriptions [sic],” and a “graceful” “style,” the “subjects” in Bracebridge Hall, he wrote, lacked “importance,” the “observations” lacked “novelty,” and “the reflections” lacked “force.” Its descriptions were light and glib, “trite and common place,” providing little understanding of English country life. By contrast, he praised A New-England Tale for its “just perception of manners and character,” and for accomplishing “its limited and simple” goal of providing “a descriptive sketch” of “rustic life.” Moreover, he clarified how he saw himself as a novelist in his own work in progress; quoting Henry Fielding, he wrote: “I am a true historian, a describer of society as it exists, and of men as they are.” 24 Subtitled A Descriptive Tale, The Pioneers, like Sedgwick’s novel, was constructed with local materials. The “pictures are very faithful,” he wrote his English publisher, and “can safely challenge a scrutiny” of their authenticity. 25 A series of reviews published in the Cooperstown newspaper, The Freeman’s Journal, supported the author’s claims of faithfulness and accuracy in his descriptions. This “descriptive tale,” a Journal reviewer proudly wrote, “produced a glow of satisfaction that it came from the pen of a gentleman born and bred at the ‘Sources of the Susquehanna.’” 26 Another reviewer, James would have been gratified to learn, “would not exchange The Pioneers for any number of Bracebridge Halls,” explaining that the novel provided “a true” account in “all its details” in “the most minute, graphical and spirited manner” of a community in “the first stages of civilized inhabitation.” 27

Like Rural Hours, The Pioneers is organized around the cycle of seasons, examining the interplay of nature and human society. In late December it is deep winter, the lake is frozen, the landscape white with snow, and the novel centers on the Christmas activities of the villagers: on Christmas Eve there are sleigh rides, a feast at the Temple mansion, church service, and a celebration at the Bold Dragoon Tavern; on Christmas Day there is a turkey shoot, church service, and a Christmas dinner. James sought to provide authentic pictures of local practices and customs in a pioneer village. His description of Christmas 1793 in Templeton in The Pioneers was loosely based on family lore and his own childhood memories about Christmas in Cooperstown from about 1789 to 1799.

The novel opens on Christmas Eve. In 1838 in The Chronicles of Cooperstown, James wrote down the family lore on which some of the events were based. As in the novel, there is a “large lumber sleigh” drawn by “four horses”; among the passengers are a Frenchman and German, who join other villagers for a holiday feast at the “Manor House,” home of William Cooper, the author’s father. The “plentiful board” of this Christmas feast, like the feast in the novel, includes lots of wild “game”; and the “abundant potations” include “copious libations of Madeira.” The year was 1789, and most of the Cooper family, including baby James, were still in New Burlington, New Jersey. William Cooper (the model for Marmaduke Temple in the novel) presided over the “Christmas banquet.” The “gentlemen” guests were business “associates” and leading citizens. 28 This was a public celebration, an all male affair, much like the Masonic lodge Christmas banquets that gained popularity in eighteenth-century America. 29

The Christmas Eve banquet in The Pioneers appears to be an established tradition; the “guests” are “familiar” with the “fare,” and several tables are required to seat the sizable gathering. The men are friends, some have business connections with the host, and they quickly engage in spirited banter on local subjects. This year, however, Judge Temple’s daughter Elizabeth attends the feast; and her presence causes a moment of discomfort, for she is the only woman in a room full of men, prompting the host to admonish one of his guests, “you forget there is a lady in company” (109). 31 It is a sumptuous feast. There is “venison steak,” “a prodigious chine of roasted bear’s meat,” “a fricassee” of “gray squirrels,” “an enormous roasted turkey,” “a boiled leg of delicious mutton,” and a variety of fish and vegetables (107). Deserts include “’nut-cakes,” “sweet-cake,” “’plum-cake,” and “gingerbread”; and “a motley-looking pie, composed of triangular slices of apple, mince, pumpkin, cranberry, and custard“ (107-08). The banqueters observe the old-time winter holiday tradition of gorging, and also heavy drinking. “Decanters of brandy, rum, gin, and wine, with sundry pitchers of cider, beer, and one hissing vessel of ‘flip,’” thus were placed around the tables to round off the celebration (108).

A community church service follows the banquet. Until a church was constructed in Cooperstown, services took place in the academy, completed in 1797. 31 In the novel in Templeton, school is canceled so that the academy can be decorated with “pines and hemlocks” for Christmas Eve worship. This is the one Christmas activity in which women seem to participate equally with men; however, following the custom of the time, “the two sexes were separated by an area in the centre of the room.” Nonetheless, James notes, there were “a few benches” in front of the pulpit for “principal personages,” permitting “Judge Temple” and “his daughter” to seat next to each other (122). Here again, Elizabeth is an exception. In time, it will become common practice for men, women, and children to sit together as families in American churches; women and children will gain stature in American religion and in the larger culture; and the way will be paved for the transformation of Christmas from a public, male-oriented celebration to an American family holiday privileging women’s activities and childhood. The symbolic separation of men and women in the Christmas service in The Pioneers, however, is reified once church lets out, for the women return home, while the men hasten to the “Bold Dragoon” “bar-room” (146). Even Elizabeth Temple does not participate in this Christmas activity; she is “safely reconducted to the Mansion-house” and left “to amuse or employ herself during the evening, as best suited her own inclinations” (169).

The Bold Dragoon, one of the older buildings in Templeton, was modeled on “the old ‘Red Lion’ tavern,” which, according to James, “was erected” in Cooperstown in “1791.” 32 The gathering at the tavern comes closest to the traditional, unrestrained holiday spirit. If not social inversion, the celebration is more egalitarian than Judge Temple’s dinner by invitation or the religious service where the elite occupied benches in front of the pulpit. In the Bold Dragoon “the benches were nearly filled with men of different occupations,” and no “man was seen to drink by himself, nor in any instance was more than one vessel considered necessary, for the same beverage; but the glass, or mug, was passed from hand to hand” (149). Natty Bumppo is “offered a glass of a liquid, which,” we are told, “was no unwelcome guest” (153). Indian John is given “a mug of cider lac’d with whisky” (158), and rather quickly exhibits “the helplessness of total inebriety” (166). Richard Jones asks “for a hissing mug of flip”; after a large “draught” he sings a drinking song about “good fellows” that are “jolly” and “cast away folly” (163). The “depth and frequency” of this pompous, normally status-conscious person’s “draughts,” we are told, soon “levelled whatever inequality there might have existed between him and the other guests.” Holding “out a pair of swimming mugs of foaming flip toward” Natty, Richard exclaims: “Merry! ay! merry Christmas to you old boy!” and launches into his drinking song about being “jolly” and casting “away folly” (164). Later, Richard once again sings, “Come let us be jolly” and “cast away folly,” and then drunkenly cheers others on: “Drink, King Hiram — drink, Mr. Doo-nothing — drink, sir, I say. This is a Christmas eve, which comes, you know, but once a year” (166). In time, even “Major Hartmann began to grow noisy and jocular; glass succeeded glass, and mug after mug was introduced,” writes Cooper, “until the carousal had run deep into the night, or rather morning” (167). Finally, Mrs. Hollister, an Irish woman who is the tavern keeper’s wife, bids farewell to Judge Temple: “’Well, it’s a charming sight to see ye, any way, at the Bould Dragoon; and sure it’s no harm to be kaping a Christmas-eve wid a light heart, for it’s no telling when we may have sorrow come upon us. So good night Joodge, and a merry Christmas to ye all, to-morrow morning’” (167).

“It was fortunate for more than one of the bacchanalians, who left the ‘Bold Dragoon’ late in the evening,” we learn, that the weather was relatively mild (179). Richard, for one, has trouble finding his way back in the dark, and is found wandering in the snow “singing in a most vivacious strain”: “Come let us be jolly” and “cast away folly” (168). Most of the men drank heavily. It is late the next morning “before ‘duke [Judge Temple] and the Major can sleep off Mrs. Hollister’s confounded distillations” and “the tardy revellers of the Christmas-eve” finally “make their appearance at the breakfast-table” (179-80).

Surprisingly, Richard is up earlier. Elizabeth greets him with “a Christmas box” (181) from her father, appointing him county Sheriff. Christmas boxes were obligatory offerings from superiors to inferiors. By contrast, Christmas presents were freely given gifts among intimates; their introduction marked a more family-oriented ritual. 33

With others still asleep, Richard escorts Elizabeth out walking on Christmas morning, and eventually to the turkey shoot. James observes: “The ancient amusement of shooting the Christmas turkey, is one of the few sports that the settlers of a new country seldom or never neglect to observe” (189). In early America this winter holiday ritual could also take place on New Year’s. 34 Overhearing a conversation among Natty, Indian John, and Oliver Edwards about the forthcoming contest, Elizabeth says, “I find” that “the old Christmas sport of shooting the turkey is yet in use among you,” and asks, who “will take” my “money” and “give me the aid of his rifle?” In response, Oliver exclaims: “’Is this a sport for a lady!’” (186) Elizabeth retorts: “Why not, sir? If it be inhuman, the sin is not confined to one sex only.” Natty agrees to be her champion, and cites precedent to defend her right to attend the shoot: “I have know’d the Dutch women on the Mohawk and Scoharie count greatly on coming to the merry-makings; and so,” he tells Oliver, “you shouldn’t be short with the lady.” But she is the only woman in attendance at the “merry-makings” (187) in Templeton, for the “throng consisted of some twenty or thirty young men,” as well as “a collection of all the boys in the village” (190). When “Elizabeth, and her cousin approached the noisy sportsmen,” the “sounds of mirth and contention sensibly lowered at this unexpected visit” of a lady (192). The “delicacy of Elizabeth,” however, “induced her to withdraw” a little ways away once the contest began (196). Natty prevails, and she gracefully presents the turkey to Oliver, just as her father approaches the site. “’A merry Christmas to you, cousin Dickon,’” says the Judge. “’I must have a vigilant eye to my daughter, sir, if you,” he adds in a reproachful voice, “would introduce a lady to such scenes!’” The chastened escort replies defensively: “’It is her own perversity, ‘duke,’” she acted “’as if she had been brought up in a camp, instead of a first-rate boarding-school.’” But the Judge is already “smiling” (199); soon he is walking arm in arm with his daughter, thoroughly delighting in her company.

The remaining events on Christmas Day are briefly sketched. “The settlers thronged to the academy again, to witness the second effort of [the Reverend] Mr. Grant” (209), James writes, and then the Judge’s guests return to the mansion-house for Christmas dinner. It is more restrained than Christmas Eve. The guests need to recover from “the excess of last night’s merriment” (201); moreover, the minister and his daughter are present and help temper this occasion. Dinner ends early. “Long before midnight” officially marks the end of Christmas, everyone had departed or gone to bed (211).

What might we conclude at this point about what The Pioneers has to say about Christmas? The novel does provide historically authentic pictures of Christmas activities in a village modeled on late eighteenth-century Cooperstown. Elizabeth Temple poses a bit of a problem, for she participates in the male-centric rituals far more than other women. It might be tempting to conclude that James augmented his Descriptive Tale with a presentist argument for a more inclusive role for women in the celebration of Christmas. More probably, James created the attractive and bold heroine, Elizabeth, as a tribute to the memory of his sister, Hannah. 35 Like her fictional counterpart, Elizabeth, Hannah had gone to finishing school in New York City. In the novel Elizabeth comes home to enjoy her first Christmas in the newly-built mansion-house. Although often gone in James’ earlier years, Hannah was at home for the family’s first Christmas in their new home, Otsego Hall, in 1799. For ten-year-old James, this Christmas undoubtedly produced the most powerful memories of his sister, Hannah; for the following September, she was thrown from a horse and died. 36

In advancing a family history explanation for the prominence of Elizabeth Temple in the holiday festivities, I do not mean to conclude that the discussion of Christmas in The Pioneers is free of presentist concerns. I believe that issues surrounding the celebration of the winter holidays in New York City at the opening of the 1820s greatly influenced the shape and subject matter of The Pioneers.

In its organization, The Pioneers is indebted to James Thomson’s enormously popular poem, The Seasons, first published in 1730. 37 Like the poem, The Pioneers, as well as Rural Hours, follows the cycle of seasons. But where Thomson’s poem and Susan’s book begin with spring, James’ novel begins with winter, more specifically with Christmas. The novel also privileges this winter holiday by the hugely disproportionate attention it receives compared to spring, summer, and fall. The Pioneers was originally published in two volumes. Christmas ends in the final chapter of the first volume; while “spring gradually approached,” we are told, in the first chapter of volume two. 38 The fact that James began with Christmas and devoted practically the entire first volume to the holiday, requires explanation. Surprisingly, the sizable body of scholarship on The Pioneers has all but ignored Christmas. Yet it is quite clear that James had Christmas on his mind; and not entirely memories of Christmas past in Cooperstown. In large part, James did accomplish what he set out to do, writing A Descriptive Tale about a pioneer village in upstate New York in the 1790s. But there are indications that he also made a foray into the battle over Christmas that was being waged in New York City as The Pioneers took shape in the early 1820s.

At the opening of the 1820s, Christmas misrule had become a serious social problem in New York City; for lower-class revelers, often in disguises, were invading respectable neighborhoods and frightening their inhabitants. At the same time, the New York upper-classes had little interest in Christmas ritualism. Even Pintard, who had promoted St. Nicholas or Santa Claus bringing children gifts on December 6ᵗʰ or January 1ˢᵗ, and who was instrumental in the creation of several new holidays for the new nation — the Fourth of July, Washington’s Birthday, and Columbus Day — still could discover no broadly appealing ritual celebration for Christmas. 39 A solution, however, was in the offing.

The American Christmas that we know was largely a literary invention. By the early 1820s, four important works had been published: Washington Irving’s Sketch Book (1819-1820); an anonymous Christmas poem, “Old Santeclaus” (1821); James Fenimore Cooper’s The Pioneers (February 1, 1823); and an anonymous poem in the Troy Sentinel, [Clement Clarke Moore’s] “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (December 23, 1823).

Irving’s Sketch Book contained five stories about Christmas at Bracebridge Hall in England, told by an American visitor, Geoffrey Crayon, who delights in the ritual reenactment of “the festive rites and holyday customs of former times.” There is feasting and drinking, Yule logs, caroling, religious worship, charity for the poor, mistletoe, and “merry old English games.” 41 James, no doubt, intended his Descriptive Tale as a corrective to these Christmas Bracebridge stories, as well as Irving’s 1822 book, Bracebridge Hall. There are similarities and significant differences between the Squire’s Christmas at Bracebridge Hall and Judge Temple’s at his mansion-house. The biggest difference lay in the lack of authenticity of the characters and local culture in Irving’s book. Irving even admitted that he had never seen any such Christmas. Nevertheless, his Christmas stories were extremely popular and helped to create a desirable image of an old-fashioned, “merry Christmas.” The Bracebridge Christmas was especially germane for respectable New Yorkers at the opening of the 1820s. It suggested that the celebration of Christmas could be used for social control, for “mitigating public discontent” among “the lower orders” with wholesome festive activities; the real key, however, was in its description of a domestic Christmas emphasizing childhood and family, including the “interchange of presents” among family members. 41

When James began writing The Pioneers in late fall 1821, Bracebridge was the only popular image of Christmas; and it was an English, not an American Christmas. By this time Santa Claus was a familiar New York winter holiday character, 42 but Santa and Christmas still were not connected. The connection was made in 1821, in the anonymous poem, “Old Santeclaus,” that began:

Old SANTECLAUS with much delight

His reindeer drives this frosty night,

O’er chimney-tops, and tracks of snow,

To bring his yearly gifts to you.

Most significantly, it is on “Christmas eve he joys to come.” 43 Here for the first time Santa arrives for Christmas; and instead of a horse-drawn wagon, there is a reindeer and presumably a sleigh. On November 29, 1822, James informed his English publisher that a good portion of his completed manuscript of The Pioneers was on the way, “enough to make two of your [three] volumes.” 44 This included all the material on Christmas, and it contained the first known reference to a Christmas Santa Claus in American prose. It also contained the first known reference to “Donner and blitzen” (50); the context is a horse-drawn sleigh. In the chronology of Santa and Christmas, Clement Clarke Moore is next, presumably composing “A Visit from St. Nicholas” on December 24, 1822, and reading it to his children on the 25ᵗʰ. 45 The Pioneers was published in February 1823, and “A Visit from St. Nicholas” followed in December 1823. 46

“A Visit from St. Nicholas” was widely reprinted in the years to come and a national holiday was born, most histories agree. Other contributing literary events were Catharine Sedgwick’s story about a Christmas tree in 1836, and Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in 1843. 47 In Moore’s poem, as well as in the stories by Sedgwick and Dickens, the emphasis was on a private, child-centered family ritual — much more like Christmas in Cooperstown in Rural Hours than Christmas in Templeton in The Pioneers.

The standard history of the authorship of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” has Moore borrowing freely from preceding work. Jones writes, “virtually every detail” in Moore’s poem “can be traced to documents in common circulation in 1822.” 48 This included work by Pintard and Paulding, but most especially Irving’s 1809 Knickerbocker History (providing specific details about St. Nicholas), as well as the 1821 poem, “Old Santeclaus” (inaugurating Santa and reindeer on Christmas Eve). 49 The reindeer continued to evolve. In the first printing of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” in the Troy Sentinel the reindeer were “Dunder and Blixem,” an old Dutch oath, “Thunder and lightning!” An 1837 version named them “Donder” and “Blixen.” In 1844, in Moore’s Poems, they became “Donder” and “Blitzen.” 51 Today we know the seventh and eighth reindeer by their German names, Donner and Blitzen.

Although Jones finds the poem highly derivative, he grants that Moore “was perfectly capable of turning one reindeer into eight” and “naming them.” 51 I am not so sure. One scholar of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” states that the German word blitzen first appeared in American English in 1836. 52 But “blitzen” had already appeared in print in 1823 in The Pioneers, in conjunction with horses pulling a sleigh on Christmas Eve. The novel also contains references to “Christmas eve” and “the stocking of Santaclaus”; and a “merry Christmas” greeting is followed by a “present” (27, 56, 180). By 1822, there were numerous printed references to Santa Claus, stockings, and presents, and at least one placed the ritual on Christmas Eve. But where did “Donner and blitzen” come from? Neither Moore nor James Fenimore Cooper are likely candidates, for the timing of the authorship in 1822 and the publication in 1823 of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” and The Pioneers makes it improbable that either Moore or James borrowed from the other. It is possible, however, that they borrowed from an unknown common source. 53 By the early 1820s, there were many versions of Santa circulating in New York; not only was Santa a familiar presence in New York journalism, it had become a common practice for news carriers to bring versified New Year addresses to their clients. 54 The proliferation and variety of the Santa pieces and New Year addresses, and the momentary purposes they served, makes it impossible to know all but a few today. It is conceivable that one of these verses had Santa’s wagon or sleigh pulled by horses or reindeer with names like Prancer and Vixen, and Dunder and Blixem. There is no equivalent in German to the old Dutch expression, thunder and lightning, with dunder for thunder and blixem for lightning. Donner is the German noun for thunder, but blitzen is a verb. Blitz is the German noun for lightning. A plausible explanation for the appearance of “Donner and blitzen” in The Pioneers is that the words were spoken by a German character, and the verb “blitzen” was used because it rhymed with “Vixen.”

It is curious that James inserted later, popular holiday lore into a novel intended as an authentic historical period piece. The first character we meet is Agamemnon (Aggy), a twenty-year-old slave, who is “smiling” with “thoughts of home, and a Christmas fire-side, with its Christmas frolics” (18). Richard Jones is initially linked to Santa as the driver of a horse-drawn sleigh that nearly careens “over a precipice,” prompting a German passenger, Fritz Hartmann to exclaim, “Donner and blitzen, Richart,” you “will preak ter sleigh and kilt ter horses” (50). However, it is Judge Temple who introduces the subject of Santa Claus. Seeking bragging rights to a deer that was shot, the Judge tries to “bribe” Aggy so that Richard will not learn the truth. “Aggy!” he exclaims, “remember there will be a visit from Santaclaus to-night” (53). When Richard seeks to ferret out the truth, “the black recollected the hint about Santaclaus,” and is not forthcoming (55). Richard further interrogates Aggy, who still “remembered the stocking of Santaclaus.” However, Aggy also “stood in great terror of his master,” since “Richard did all the flogging” (56). If Richard is a Santa figure, he is nothing like Moore’s “right jolly old elf,” who gives assurance that there is “nothing to dread.” But he does recall “Old SANTECLAUS” in the 1821 poem, whose “long, black, birchen rod,” children, who are “liars” and “base tale-bearers,” fear and “dread.” 55 Threatened with “the lash,” Aggy spills the truth about the deer (56). In consequence, Richard fulfills his role as a Santa figure by rewarding Aggy with “his present” on Christmas Day. “Holla! Aggy! — merry Christmas, Aggy,” he greets him, “you black dog! there’s a dollar for you”; thus saying, Richard contemptuously flung “his present” to him, and the “black caught the money from the snow” (180). Richard is a caricature of a dark, judgmental Santa Claus. This Santa, who rewards and also harshly punishes children, represents one version of the holiday icon in New York City in the early 1820s. 56 Moreover, as an almost adult slave, Aggy is a caricature of a child receiving a present on Christmas Day. Rather tellingly, no one else receives a Christmas present in The Pioneers, not even Elizabeth.

When he began writing The Pioneers in 1821, James was living in Scarsdale, just outside New York City. He moved into the City as he was completing the novel in fall 1822. Even before moving, he was constantly in and out of the City. James knew most of the principle players in the development of the Knickerbocker Santa Claus, some quite well and others more distantly. 57 The disproportionate emphasis on Christmas in The Pioneers surely was a response to the battle for the winter holidays being waged in New York City at that time. James sided with Christmas. There is no mention of New Year’s in the novel; moreover, the Christmas practices in Templeton were rooted in his own childhood in Cooperstown. Contrasted with the nostalgic tolerance he conveys for the old-fashioned male feasting and drinking holiday, his negative presentation of the first Christmas Santa in American prose might suggest disapproval of the movement toward a domestic, child-oriented winter holiday, with Santa as its icon. Yet James was deeply committed to the postcolonial project of identifying American traditions and establishing a distinctive culture in the New World. In an 1832 footnote to his London revised edition of The Pioneers, he wrote: “The periodical visits of St. Nicholas, or Santaclaus as he is termed, were never forgotten among the inhabitants of New York.” In this footnote the Christmas Santa he helped invent nine years earlier has become a timeless tradition; Santa “arrives at each Christmas” (53), he explained. The clarification of an American tradition in the footnote and the Santa figure in the text are not completely compatible. In The Pioneers he provided a realistic description of a jolly, old-fashioned Christmas holiday, while at the same time he expressed his disapproval of contemporary Christmas lore that contained a harsh Santa that children “dread” — like the figure in the 1821 poem, “Old Santeclaus,” with his “long, black birchen rod.”

I do not know when the Cooper family began to celebrate the kind of Christmas Susan describes in Rural Hours. I would imagine that it fell into place gradually, evolving with the practice of Christmas in the larger culture. In the battle over Christmas, Susan would appear to be a clear-cut victor. The journal entries that formed the basis of her discussion of Christmas in Rural Hours were made in December 1848. 58 In 1849, New York State officially recognized December 25 th, Christmas Day, as a legal holiday. 59 Of course, schools and businesses were still open, and most churches were still closed; and Susan did not give credence to the full childhood fantasy contained in the Sun’s proclamation, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

In some ways, however, Susan was already fighting a rear-guard action. In 1872, in “Female Suffrage: A Letter to the Christian Women of America,” Susan spoke of the “superior merit” of women engaged in their domestic pursuits, contrasting the separate sphere of women with the “wretched, feverish, maddening struggle to pile up lucre” of “the merchant” and “the manufacturer.” 61 She strongly favored domestic production over commercial consumption. In Rural Hours, Susan praised the work of local women in their household crafts. Her discussion of Christmas presents showed a strong preference for “dolls” that “are wholly of domestic manufacture” over “wax and paste-board” dolls “such as may be seen in every toy-shop window” (271). In Rural Hours, the feminization and domestic production of Christmas, and Santa Claus, work well together. For Susan, and others at this time, Santa suggested a timeless ritual, symbolically linking the present to an ancient folk culture and to a traditional economy based in household production. 61 The course of history partly favored their point of view. By the end of the century, when Virginia received her reassurance about the reality of Santa, Christmas was no longer a dangerous urban holiday; it was safely in the parlor now, and behind every storefront window. Even in the 1820s, as Santa was becoming a Christmas icon, he was fast becoming a commercial icon. In truth, there never has been a Santa Claus Christmas free of merchandizing. 62

The importance of literary texts in the development of the American Christmas is standard history. Unaccountably, The Pioneers and Rural Hours have been completely ignored. 63 Both books were highly successful and went through many editions. The Pioneers was in print the rest of the century; there were six different editions of Rural Hours in the first half of the 1850s, 64 with new editions appearing in the 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s. Besides providing the first linkage of Santa and Christmas in a nationally distributed publication, The Pioneers presented Christmas as a venerable American tradition long before any of the competing winter rituals could be declared the victor. The discussion of Christmas in Rural Hours was appealing, informative, and as complete as any in print. All the ingredients were there: ancient tradition, Santa, reindeer, stockings hung by the fireside, decorations, seasonal cooking, Christmas trees, presents, Christian piety and charity; and in affirming the importance of women’s work and the value of domestic crafts, and accentuating the special character of children and the enchantment of childhood, it rested on core values of Victorian home and family. The Pioneers and Rural Hours are valuable historical markers that enrich our understanding of the development of Christmas in America. Read together, these books allow us to observe local holiday practices in an upstate New York village from the early republic into the middle of the nineteenth century, and examine substantial changes over several generations. The books responded to and provide us insight into the larger debate in America surrounding the celebration of the winter holidays. In throwing their support to Christmas, James and Susan Fenimore Cooper’s books contributed to its growing appeal, pointing toward a not too distant future when Christmas would stand alone as the most important holiday in American life.


1 Quoted in Stephen Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas (New York: Vintage Books, 1997), 88.

2 The battle metaphor comes from Nissenbaum’s rich and complex history of this topic, The Battle for Christmas. For a discussion of the competing winter holidays, New Year’s and Christmas, also see Leigh Eric Schmidt, Consumer Rites: The Buying & Selling of American Holidays (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), 106-91.

3 Cooper to Mrs. Cooper, 3 March 1850, The Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper, ed. James Franklin Beard. 6 vols. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960-68), VI, 151.

4 Hugh C. McDougall, James Fenimore Cooper Society Newsletter, 6 (no. 3, 1995), 2.

5 Susan Fenimore Cooper, Rural Hours, ed. and introd. Rochelle Johnson and Daniel Patterson (1850; Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1998), 270. Subsequent quotes from Rural Hours are noted in parentheses in the text.

6 See Cooper, Rural Hours, “Glossary,” 335.

7 The poem was published as a broadside by Pintard on Saint Nicholas Day, December 6, 1810, for the first annual Saint Nicholas Day banquet of the New-York Historical Society. See Charles W. Jones, Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bari, and Manhattan: Biography of a Legend (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 341-42.

8 Charles W. Jones, “Knickerbocker Santa Claus,” The New-York Historical Society Quarterly, XXXVIII (Oct. 1954), 365.

9 Penne L. Restad, Christmas in America: A History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 67-68; Schmidt, Consumer Rites, 114-17.

10 Jones, Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bari, and Manhattan, 350; Jones, “Knickerbocker Santa Claus,” 375.

11 Jones, Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bari, and Manhattan, 327-34; Jones, “Knickerbocker Santa Claus,” 363.

12 Quoted in Jones, Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bari, and Manhattan, 333.

13 Jones, “Knickerbocker Santa Claus,” 363.

14 Jones, “Knickerbocker Santa Claus,” 370-71; R. W. G. Vail, Knickerbocker Birthday: A Sesqui-Centennial History of The New-York Historical Society, 1804-1954 (New York: The New-York Historical Society, 1954), 368-70.

15 Jones, Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bari, and Manhattan, 342.

16 Jones, “Knickerbocker Santa Claus,” 374.

17 Jones, “Knickerbocker Santa Clause,” 374; Jones, Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bari, and Manhattan, 344-45.

18 Jones, Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bari, and Manhattan, 345.

19 Jones, Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bari, and Manhattan, 345.

20 Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas, 5-11; Restad, Christmas in America, 9-10.

21 Susan G. Davis, “’Making Night Hideous’: Christmas Revelry and Public Order in Nineteenth-Century Philadelphia,” American Quarterly, 34 (Summer 1982), 185-99; Nissenbaum, Battle for Christmas, 90-107; Restad, Christmas in America, 38-41.

22 Jones, Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bari, and Manhattan, 334-35.

23 Nissenbaum, Battle for Christmas, 37-38; Restad, Christmas in America, 19-21.

24 The reviews appeared in The Literary and Scientific Repository, and Critical Review, IV (May 1822), 336-70, 422-32, and are reprinted in James Fenimore Cooper, Early Critical Essays (1820-1822), ed. James F. Beard, Jr. (Delmar, New York: Scholars’ Facsimiles & Reprints, 1977), 143, 134, 114, 98. See also James Franklin Beard, “Historical Introduction” to James Fenimore Cooper, The Pioneers, or the Sources of the Susquehanna; A Descriptive Tale, historical introduction and explanatory notes by Beard, text established by Lance Schachterle and Kenneth M. Andersen, Jr. (1823; Albany: SUNY Press, 1980), xx-xxiv (subsequent quotes from The Pioneers are noted in parentheses in the text); Thomas Philbrick, “Cooper’s The Pioneers: Origins and Structure,” PMLA, 79 (Dec. 1964), 580-84; James Wallace, Early Cooper and His Audience (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), 118-28.

25 Cooper to John Murray, 29 Nov. 1822, The Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper, ed. James Franklin Beard. 6 vols. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960-68), I, 85.

26 The Freeman’s Journal, 15 (Feb. 17, 1823), 4.

27 The Freeman’s Journal, 15 (March 10, 1823), 4. This review was extracted from the National Gazette.

28 James Fenimore Cooper, Chronicles of Cooperstown (Cooperstown: H. & E. Phinney, 1838), 26, 27, 28. Susan Fenimore Cooper drew on this material in The Chronicles of Cooperstown for commentary on The Pioneers, in Pages and Pictures, from the Writings of James Fenimore Cooper (New York: W. A. Townsend, 1861), 56.

29 Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas, 38-40.

30 Remarkable Pettibone is also there as cook and housekeeper, but not as a dinner guest.

31 Alan Taylor, William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995), 210; Cooper dates the completion in 1795, noting that church was held in the school building, in Chronicles of Cooperstown, 40-42.

32 Cooper, Chronicles of Cooperstown, 30. Cooper would later, and rather disingenuously, deny that he had drawn on his memories of Cooperstown for his portrait of Templeton. But he did admit that the “tavern” in “the Pioneers” was one of the “few objects that did exist in Cooperstown.” See Cooper, “The Effingham Controversy,” Brother Jonathan, I (March 26, 1842), 355, 357. Also see, Beard, historical introd., The Pioneers, xxv-xxvii; Franklin, The New World of James Fenimore Cooper, 75-81; Taylor, William Cooper’s Town, 412-418.

33 Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas, 110-12.

34 Restad, Christmas in America, 11.

35 He would later deny any connection between his character, Elizabeth, and his sister, Hannah. See Cooper, “The Effingham Controversy,” 356; Cooper, 1851 Introduction to The Pioneers, 11. In this, he is no more convincing than in his denials of the close resemblance between Templeton and Cooperstown. See Beard, “Historical Introduction,” The Pioneers, xxvii; Franklin, The New World of James Fenimore Cooper, 81; Taylor, William Cooper’s Town, 303, 313-16, 413-417.

36 Wayne Franklin has reconstructed when Hannah was or was not in Cooperstown. He suggested this interpretation of the home-for-Christmas connection between Elizabeth and Hannah. Although Hannah had been home for some months, Christmas 1799 was the one Christmas in recent years that Hannah celebrated with her family in Cooperstown.

37 Philbrick, “Cooper’s The Pioneers,” 584-86.

38 James Fenimore Cooper, The Pioneers, or the Sources of the Susquehanna; A Descriptive Tale, 2 vols. (New York: Charles Wiley, 1823), II, 1. Christmas ends in this edition of The Pioneers, I, 269.

39 Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas, 52-57.

40 Washington Irving, The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, introd. and notes by William L. Hedges (1819-1820; New York: Viking Penguin, 1988), 173, 178.

41 Irving, The Sketch Book, 184, 178, 179, 154. In the past, Squire Bracebridge’s attempt to use Christmas for social control only had limited success; thereafter, Geoffrey Crayon explains, “he had contented himself with inviting the decent part of the neighbouring peasantry to call at the hall on Christmas day, and with distributing beef, and bread, and ale, among the poor, that they might make merry in their own dwellings”; Irving, The Sketch Book, 178. On Bracebridge Christmas, see Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas, 57-61; Restad, Christmas in America, 27-28.

42 Jones, “Knickerbocker Santa Claus,” 377.

43 Quoted in Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas, 73. The italics are mine.

44 Cooper to John Murray, 29 Nov. 1822, Letters and Journals, I, 85.

45 Don Foster, Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous (New York: Henry Holt, 2000), 249; Samuel White Patterson, The Poet of Christmas Eve: A Life of Clement Clarke Moore, 1779-1863 (New York: Morehouse-Gorham, 1956), 10, 16, 17, 18.

46 Jones, Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bari, and Manhattan, 347; Foster, Author Unknown, 225-26.

47 Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas, 189-95, 222-27.

48 Jones, Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bari, and Manhattan, 349.

49 Jones, Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bari, and Manhattan, 341-49; Jones, “Knickerbocker Santa Claus,” 372-82; Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas, 55-86; Patterson, The Poet of Christmas Eve, 11-18.

50 Foster, Author Unknown, 264-66.

51 Jones, “Knickerbocker Santa Claus,” 378.

52 Foster, Author Unknown, 264.

53 This explanation is modeled on the Q hypothesis in New Testament studies. Long ago there were many gospels floating around the Mediterranean world. The similarities between Matthew and Luke are based on two gospels they used in common: Mark, and Q, a gospel that has disappeared from the historical record. For a summary of the Q hypothesis, see Raymond F. Collins, Introduction to the New Testament (London: SCM Press, 1983), 130-33. Another possibility that cannot be ruled out is that “A Visit from St. Nicholas” was composed by Major Henry Livingston in 1808 or slightly earlier, as claimed by his family many years later. Most recently, the literary detective Don Foster has advanced a credible argument for Livingston, based on internal evidence and by raising doubts about Moore’s integrity; see Foster, Author Unknown, 221-75. One problem is the complete absence of evidence that anyone outside the Livingston family ever heard that the Major wrote the poem; see Patterson, The Poet of Christmas Eve, 171. Another problem is that the whole history of the evolution of Santa Claus would have to be rewritten. Rather than Moore borrowing from previous chroniclers of St. Nicholas, as the current history holds, the history would have to show that subsequent chroniclers of St. Nicholas borrowed from Major Livingston. In effect, we would have to assume that the Major’s poem was an underground classic that lots of people knew. Thus, for example, instead of Moore borrowing from Irving, as is now assumed, the Santa figure in Irving’s 1809 Knickerbocker History would have to have been borrowed from the Major’s poem. There is another historical problem. As part of his argument for Livingston’s authorship, Foster emphasizes the importance of the Livingston/Dutch connection, stating that Santa Claus or St. Nicholas was a “local tradition” for New Yorkers of Dutch descent; see Foster, Author Unknown, 241-42. However, as we have seen, there is no evidence of St. Nicholas/Santa Claus in the New York Dutch colonial tradition.

54 Jones, Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bari, and Manhattan, 350.

55 Quoted in Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas, 73.

56 Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas, 72-76.

57 For example, Irving, Moore, Paulding, Sedgwick, Weir (whose portrait of Santa Susan mentioned), and Verplanck all appear in James’ correspondence.

58 MacDougall, James Fenimore Cooper Society Newsletter, 2.

59 James H. Barnett, The American Christmas: A Study in National Culture (New York: MacMillan, 1954), 20.

60 Susan Fenimore Cooper, “Female Suffrage: A Letter to the Christian Women of America,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, XLI (Sept. 1870), 596-97.

61 Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas, 174-75.

62 Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas, 134-36, 161-65, 169-75; Schmidt, Consumer Rites, 122-45.

63 The only mention of The Pioneers that I have found in the history of Christmas literature is a statement by Jones that James Fenimore Cooper “refers to Santa Claus in The Pioneers“; see “Knickerbocker Santa Claus,” 382. This information could be obtained without reading The Pioneers, because it could be found in A Dictionary of American English, eds. Sir William A. Craigie and James R. Hulbert. 4 vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1938), IV, 2018. The dictionary gives its first example of “Santa Claus” from The Pioneers.

64 Johnson and Patterson, introd. Rural Hours, xv.