"As we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of the opportunity provided to serve self-interest when Al Gore created the internet; and we should also thank Mark Zuckerburg and Jack Dorsey for creating Facebook and Twitter out of the kindness of their big hearts and not the thinness of their small wallets."
-Ben Franklin, Autobiography (1742)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Benjamin Franklin is Santa Claus

Happy December everyone! The Lost and Founders staff would like to start by apologizing to our readers for the tremendously long hiatus these past months. We take pride in our dedication to unraveling the truth in history and feel remiss about the lapse in posting. It was; however, unavoidable. Our staff was in fact given the tremendous opportunity to travel with former President Lincoln in his time machine to correct several wrongs that occurred between the period of 1903-1919. Fear not, you won't notice a thing - today's history books will have automatically been re-written to reflect the changes. We may though get into some of the nitty gritty in a future post because some of it was pretty damn cool. It never ceases to amaze us how much of a badass America landed in ol' Honest Abe.

At any rate, we're back! And we would like to kick off end the year with a few apt lessons on the original association between the United States and the holiday most Americans celebrate today as Christmas. Today, we will cover a detail that, though obvious if you are paying attention to the facts, is often overlooked: the true origin of Santa Claus.

The year was 1754. Murmurs of revolution were already beginning and the colonies were crying out for a means to procure items not sold in town or grown on their own property. Benjamin Franklin answered this cry when he began publishing the first concept of the "catalog," a mail-order pamphlet from which parents could send requests for gifts that would be delivered by courier directly to them. It was brilliant concept that had never been attempted anywhere in the world, and children all over the colonies began sending wish lists to Franklin, who guaranteed that items would be delivered to even the most remote areas. That's right, children would write down things they wanted for Christmas and Franklin and his couriers would bring them presents.

Initially, the catalog included only books, but quickly also started providing toys under the guise of books as children were the primary audience. Colonial kids used decoder rings (similar to the ones later made popular in the 1950s as a prize from cereal boxes) to determine what toy was actually represented by a particular book title in the catalog. The rings themselves were found in bags of grain and referred to as E.L.F rings (Extra special Loot from Franklin's shoppe). Starting to piece it together?

Eventually, Franklin's workshop came under fire from parents who intended to use his catalog system for purchasing educational materials for their children, and instead were duped into buying them toys. A common joke of the era was marking children as "naughty" or "nice" when mail-order items arrived and it was discovered whether or not they were actually what was purchased. The entrepreneurial Franklin was at the time was making literal boatloads of money from his ruse, and so to counter the backlash from angry parents he created the character Santa Claus and began dressing in a red and white suit as a clever cover for his antics. This should also ring a few bells - the colors red and white, which are now commonly labeled as Christmas colors, were actually used because they matched the colors of the Rebellious Stripes flag that would later become the basis for our national flag (Franklin was as we well know very patriotic).


So to sum up, by December of 1759, Ben Franklin's mail-order service had evolved into a booming business of children sending wish lists for toys to a mysterious man in a red suit that would deliver them on or about Christmas morning (the catalog was published every November right after Thanksgiving). Though parents had many issues with this early on, the trend became tradition as these things often do and eventually the gift-giving rituals and the character of Santa that we know today became widespread throughout the colonies and eventually even the rest of the world. Careful readers will notice that we have not mentioned other parts of the Western "Santa" legend such as the north pole or flying reindeer. That is because these parts of the tale were fabrications created by Hallmark to sell cards beginning in 1927.

So there you have it folks! The true story of Santa Claus brought to you once again by a founding father! Keep this in mind when you pass out gifts to your children this holiday season and remember to give your family's household portrait of Ben Franklin a wink. We'll see you next week with more of the true history behind the history!

The Lost and Founders

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