One of my favorite occasional reads is the Smithsonian magazine. Yesterday I plopped onto the sofa (as I ungracefully tend to do) and read this article on Robert Walter Weir's 1838 painting and the history of Saint Nicholas as we know him.
"Weir’s portrayal of St. Nicholas was inspired in part by the descriptions of a fellow Knickerbocker, Washington Irving, the celebrated author of “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Irving’s A History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, published on St. Nicholas Day, December 6, 1809, was replete with charming digressions. Among them was a set piece on the saint, portraying him as an elfin, antic figure, his appearance drawn from the ranks of the Dutch bourgeoisie. Smoking a clay pipe and “laying his finger beside his nose,” Irving wrote, St. Nicholas soars over trees in a flying wagon “wherein he brings his yearly presents to children.” Irving also advanced the notion that the saint descended into chimneys to bestow his treats."
Image and excerpt from the Smithsonian magazine