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Was Santa Claus A New Yorker? New Exhibit Explores St. Nick's Big Apple Roots

By Annie Reuter

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Now there's even more reason to celebrate the holidays in the Big Apple.

"Though legend has it that Santa Claus hails from the North Pole, he was actually a New Yorker who came into the world on West 23rd Street in what is now the trendy Chelsea neighborhood," says the New York Historical Society.

Their latest exhibit, "It Happened Here: The Invention of Santa Claus," is on display through January 8th and leads visitors to an installation tracing Santa Claus as we know him today.

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"The modern Santa was born in the imagination of Clement Clarke Moore, a scholar who penned a whimsical poem about St. Nicholas, the patron of old Dutch New York, for the amusement of his six children at Christmastime," according to the New York Historical Society.

Gallery: See Photos From The Exhibit

Additionally, Santa's popularity, appearance and many of the holiday traditions that surround him are because of the talent of two other New Yorkers: Washington Irving, the creator of Knickerbocker's History of New York, and Thomas Nast, an artist whose drawings of Santa were reproduced all over the country in the years following the Civil War.

'It Happened Here: The Invention of Santa Claus' Exhibit
'A Visit From St. Nicholas' handwritten Manuscript, gifted by author Clement C. Moore (credit: New-York Historical Society)

The exhibition includes a one-horse sleigh made by New York City carriage manufacturer Brewster & Company, Robert Weir's 1837 painting of St. Nicholas and Nast's Harper's Weekly cartoons of Santa. Also on display is Moore's neoclassical desk and a handwritten manuscript copy of his famous poem from 1862.

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"Soon after the publication of "A Visit from St. Nicholas"—popularly known today by its opening line, "Twas the night before Christmas…""—St. Nicholas became a popular feature of American Christmas celebrations.

Moore's poem permanently connected St. Nicholas to Christmas, and led to our idea of Santa Claus," they add.

The seasonal display runs through January 8, 2012, in the Henry Luce III Center for the Study of American Culture at the New York Historical Society.

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