The Hometown History column is presented by the Fenton History Center and The Post-Journal. Each Friday, a distinct item from the Fenton History Center collections or archival special collections will be featured. Learn about your hometown history through parts of its past.
If one of the items featured brings back some memories or brings up a question, please contact the Fenton History Center at 664-6256 or firstname.lastname@example.org to share your memory or get an answer to your question.
By Karen Livsey
The American version of Santa Claus is greeting visitors on the second floor while he stands at the edge of the “Aluminum Tree Forest” in the Lake Room at the Fenton History Center.
This Weihnachtsman, or German Christmas Man, is waiting to greet visitors to the third floor of the Fenton History Center. He was designed based on an early 20th century postcard.
Clement Moore published "T'was the Night before Christmas," and Thomas Nast drew his impression of Santa Claus. With these descriptions, the American Santa Claus began to take the form we have known for the past century, differing from the earlier versions from Europe. Father Christmas in England wore a long green coat. He appeared in other places dressed in other colors. The Dutch, who settled what became New York City, brought the story of Sinterklaas which has become Santa Claus in the United States. Other cultures have their own versions of the "bringer of gifts" at Christmas time.
Some stores used the idea of Kris Kringle visiting the store, but it was Macy's who developed the "department store Santa." Originally hired to listen to children's wishes and then direct parents to the area of the store where the desired wish was available, department store Santas now listen to the wishes and smile for the camera.
In the United States and some other countries, the postal service will deliver letters addressed to Santa Claus. A traditional activity for children in America is to write a letter to Santa Claus telling him what they would like for Christmas. Whatever address is written, the letters arrive at the proper place. These are often answered by volunteers. Of course the contents of the letters run from a long list of the latest and greatest toys to a plea for help for a family member. The letters are written in pencil, ink and crayon on fancy and plain paper and come in many sizes.
Most people have a favorite gift that they received one Christmas, or they remember that one letter they wrote to Santa Claus. What are your memories from past Christmases? And what would be your wish if Santa would bring you what you want most in life? Who is writing to Santa this year?
This year the Fenton History Center will again be in fine holiday dress from the tower to the basement as we look at Christmas traditions from the past. On Tuesday, members can preview the exhibits from 4-7 p.m.
Potential members may join that evening and see the exhibits. The Fenton History Center will be open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., but will close at 1 p.m. on Christmas Eve.
The purpose of the Fenton History Center is to gather and teach about southern Chautauqua County's history through artifacts, ephemeral and oral histories, and other pieces of the past.
Visit www.fentonhistorycenter.org for more information on upcoming events.
If you would like to donate to the collections or support the work of the Fenton History Center, call 664-6256 or visit the center at 67 Washington St., just south of the Washington Street Bridge.