Santa Claus: Promoting the Santa Claus Myth
At the turn of the twentieth century, the Santa Claus myth had become so well established that retailers, advertisers, and charities began to use it to promote their interests (see also Commercialism). Hired Santas began to appear on street corners and in department stores. In 1937 the first training school for professional Santas was established in Albion, New York. Its classes taught potential Santas how to act and dress the role and coached them in Santa mythology. By the mid-1950s New York City alone could boast of at least three such Santa schools.
In the first half of the twentieth century, however, some people worried whether the sudden proliferation of street-corner Santas would cause children to question the Santa Claus myth. In 1914 a group of concerned citizens in New York City formed the Santa Claus Association, a group whose self-appointed mission was to safeguard children’s belief in Santa Claus. At Christmas time they busied themselves with collecting children’s letters to Santa Claus from the post office and responding to the requests they contained. In 1929 post office officials themselves took over the task of responding to these letters. Other groups did their part to limit the overbooking of Santas. In 1937 the Salvation Army stopped hiring Santas to promote their cause. In 1948 the Boston city council recommended that the city host only one Santa per season to be headquartered on Boston Common.
While some worked to protect children’s belief in Santa Claus, others wondered whether children should be taught the myth at all. Religious parents expressed concern that children would confuse Santa Claus with Jesus. Their concern echoed that of German Protestant reformers from centuries past who eventually succeeded in replacing St. Nicholas as the holiday season gift bringer with Christkindel.