Father Christmas

Father Christmas is a name used in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and several other Commonwealth Countries, as well as Ireland, for the gift-bringing figure of Christmas or yuletide. The name is also used in translation in many other countries; see Santa Claus.

Although Father Christmas and Santa Claus (the latter deriving from the Dutch for Saint Nicholas: Sinterklaas) are now used interchangeably, and both are to some extent identified with Saint Nicholas, the origins of Father Christmas are quite different from Santa Claus. Traditional differences also include their dress: Father Christmas wears a long, green, fur-lined hooded cloak and a wreath of holly, ivy or mistletoe, whereas Santa wears a red coat and cap. It is the association with holly and mistletoe, and his ability to lift people's spirits, that we retain from this ancient Father Christmas; there are clear links with the centuries-old Green Man.

Father Christmas has his roots in Paganism.[1] By the time of the Anglo-Saxons in England (around the mid-5th century AD), it was customary for an elder man from the community to dress in furs and visit each dwelling.[2] At each house, in the guise of "Old Winter" (or "King Frost" or "King Winter"), he would be plied with food and drink before moving on to the next. It was thought he carried the spirit of the winter with him, and that the winter would be kind to anyone hospitable to Old Winter. The tradition was strengthened when the Vikings invaded Britain (during the period from the late 8th century to the 11th century) and brought their own midwinter traditions with them; these involved the god Odin, traditionally represented as a portly, elderly man with a white beard. The custom was still kept in Medieval England and, after a decline during the Commonwealth under the Puritans (Christmas itself was banned between 1647 and 1660[3]), became widespread again during the Restoration period (see: Christmas and the Reformation). Father Christmas was also a significant character in Christmas Mummers' Plays.

A book dating from the time of the Commonwealth, The Vindication of CHRISTMAS or, His Twelve Yeares' Observations upon the Times, involved Father Christmas advocating a merry, alcoholic Christmas and casting aspersions on the charitable motives of the ruling Puritans.

Excerpt from Josiah King's The Examination and Tryal of Father Christmas (1686), published shortly after Christmas was reinstated as a holy day in EnglandThe traditional Father Christmas was neither a gift bringer, nor associated with children. During the Victorian era, when Santa Claus arrived from America, he was merged with "Old Winter", "Old Christmas" or "Old Father Christmas" to create Father Christmas, the British Santa which survives today.[4]

The Ghost of Christmas Present in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol is based on Father Christmas.

Father Christmas is the only character who appears with the same name in fiction by both of those two famous friends, C.S. Lewis (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), and J.R.R. Tolkien (The Father Christmas Letters).


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