WAYNESBURG – “Is there a Santa Claus?” 8-year old Virginia O’Hanlan asked her father in 1897.
His response was for her to write a letter to the New York Sun newspaper because everything printed in the Sun was the truth.
Suzanne Wylie, retired librarian from Waynesburg University, began her program for members of the Cornerstone Genealogical Society with this old tale of a young child asking about Santa Claus.
Wylie said there is a legend that began more than 1,700 years ago in Turkey about a very wealth Bishop named Nicholas, who was known for his kindness and generosity.
There were three young girls who had no dowry, and therefore would probably not marry but become prostitutes.
St. Nicholas put some gold coins in a bag and late at night tossed them through the window of the house where the girls lived. The next night he did the same thing, so that took care of two of the girls, but when he went back the third night the window was closed, so he climbed onto the roof and dropped the bag down the chimney, and some of the coins ended up in a stocking that was hung there.
The Dutch seamen carried around the world the kindness and generosity of St Nicholas and Russia and Greece adopted him as their patron saint.
St. Nicholas was first pictured as tall, saintly and stern, with long robes, carrying switches for the bad children and toys for the good children.
In 1823, Clement Clark Moore wrote a story for his daughters called “The Visit of St. Nicholas,” which later became “The Night Before Christmas.”
Christmas was not celebrated in the United States until early 1800s. The first Christmas card was a tiny visitation card. Later robins were seen on a lot of cards. Wylie said that there is a legend that when Jesus was born there was a little brown robin roosting in the stable, which noticed that the fire that Joseph had built was burning out, so he fanned the flames with his wings until his breast became red.
Louis Prang, a German immigrant, was the first to use lithographic stones on Christmas cards. These cards involved numerous steps and were works of art.
The Coca Cola Co. used Santa Claus in its ads in 1931, with the story “The Night Before Christmas” as its inspiration.
During its business meeting following the program, Cornerstone Genealogical Society elected officers for 2014. They Dave Cressey, president; Buzz Walters, first vice president; Laurine Williams, second vice president; ; Recording Secretary Bonnie S. Kiger, recording secretary; Marilyn Kerr, corresponding secretary; and Louise Gapen, treasurer. Three directors were elected: Marilyn Eichenlaub; Paul Jensen and Zachary Patton.
The next meeting will be at 7 p.m. Jan. 14 with John “Buzz” Walters speaking on coke ovens.
Dues are now due for the year 2014. They are $20 for regular membership and $50 for patron membership.