The custom of merrymaking and feasting at Christmastide first appears in the historical record during the High Middle Ages c — The first known English personification of Christmas was associated with merry-making, singing and drinking. Many late medieval Christmas customs incorporated both sacred and secular themes. In most areas of England the archaic word ' Yule ' had been replaced by ' Christmas ' by the 11th century, but in some regions 'Yule' survived as the normal dialect term.
In the riding was suppressed on the orders of the Archbishop , who complained of the "undecent and uncomely disguising" which drew multitudes of people from divine service.
Such personifications, illustrating the medieval fondness for pageantry and symbolism,  extended throughout the Tudor and Stuart periods with Lord of Misrule characters, sometimes called 'Captain Christmas',  'Prince Christmas'  or 'The Christmas Lord', presiding over feasting and entertainment in grand houses, university colleges and Inns of Court. In his allegorical play Summer's Last Will and Testament ,  written in about , Thomas Nashe introduces for comic effect a miserly Christmas character who refuses to keep the feast.
Early 17th century writers used the techniques of personification and allegory as a means of defending Christmas from attacks by radical Protestants. Responding to a perceived decline in the levels of Christmas hospitality provided by the gentry,  Ben Jonson in Christmas, His Masque dressed his Old Christmas in out of date fashions:  "attir'd in round Hose, long Stockings, a close Doublet, a high crownd Hat with a Broach, a long thin beard, a Truncheon, little Ruffes, white shoes, his Scarffes, and Garters tyed crosse".
Surrounded by guards, Christmas asserts his rightful place in the Protestant Church and protests against attempts to exclude him:  "Why Gentlemen, doe you know what you doe? Christmas, old Christmas? Christmas of London, and Captaine Christmas? I am old Gregorie Christmas still, and though I come out of Popes-head-alley as good a Protestant, as any i'my Parish. Resigne, resigne. I that am the King of good cheere and feasting, though I come but once a yeare to raigne over bak't, boyled, roast and plum-porridge, will have being in despight of thy lard-ship.
This sort of character was to feature repeatedly over the next years in pictures, stage plays and folk dramas. Initially known as 'Sir Christmas' or 'Lord Christmas', he later became increasingly referred to as 'Father Christmas'. The rise of puritanism led to accusations of popery in connection with pre- reformation Christmas traditions. It was in this context that Royalist pamphleteers linked the old traditions of Christmas with the cause of King and Church, while radical puritans argued for the suppression of Christmas both in its religious and its secular aspects.
The Arraignment, Conviction and Imprisoning of Christmas January describes a discussion between a town crier and a Royalist gentlewoman enquiring after Old Father Christmas who 'is gone from hence'. He looked under the consecrated Laune sleeves as big as Bul-beefe He got Prentises, Servants, and Schollars many play dayes, and therefore was well beloved by them also, and made all merry with Bagpipes, Fiddles, and other musicks, Giggs, Dances, and Mummings.
A frontispiece illustrates an old, bearded Christmas in a brimmed hat, a long open robe and undersleeves. Christmas laments the pitiful quandary he has fallen into since he came into "this headlesse countrey". But welcome or not welcome, I am come Father Christmas's counsel mounts the defence: "Me thinks my Lord, the very Clouds blush, to see this old Gentleman thus egregiously abused.
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Following the Restoration in , most traditional Christmas celebrations were revived, although as these were no longer contentious the historic documentary sources become fewer. In Josiah King reprinted his pamphlet with additional material. In this version, the restored Father Christmas is looking better: "[he] look't so smug and pleasant, his cherry cheeks appeared through his thin milk white locks, like [b]lushing Roses vail'd with snow white Tiffany As interest in Christmas customs waned, Father Christmas's profile declined.
In The Country Squire , a play of , Old Christmas is depicted as someone who is rarely-found: a generous squire. The character Scabbard remarks, "Men are grown so Squire Christmas By the late 18th century Father Christmas had become a stock character in the Christmas folk plays later known as mummers plays. During the following century they became probably the most widespread of all calendar customs.
The oldest extant speech   is from Truro, Cornwall in the late s:. During the Victorian period Christmas customs enjoyed a significant revival, including the figure of Father Christmas himself as the emblem of 'good cheer'. His physical appearance at this time became more variable, and he was by no means always portrayed as the old and bearded figure imagined by 17th century writers. In his poem Marmion of Walter Scott wrote. Scott's phrase Merry England has been adopted by historians to describe the romantic notion that there was a golden age of the English past, allegedly since lost, that was characterised by universal hospitality and charity.
The notion had a profound influence on the way that popular customs were seen, and most of the 19th century writers who bemoaned the state of contemporary Christmases were, at least to some extent, yearning for the mythical Merry England version. In an extended allegory, Hervey imagines his contemporary Old Father Christmas as a white-bearded magician dressed in a long robe and crowned with holly.
His children are identified as Roast Beef Sir Loin and his faithful squire or bottle-holder Plum Pudding; the slender figure of Wassail with her fount of perpetual youth; a 'tricksy spirit' who bears the bowl and is on the best of terms with the Turkey; Mumming; Misrule, with a feather in his cap; the Lord of Twelfth Night under a state-canopy of cake and wearing his ancient crown; Saint Distaff looking like an old maid "she used to be a sad romp; but her merriest days we fear are over" ; Carol singing; the Waits; and the twin-faced Janus.
Hervey ends by lamenting the lost "uproarious merriment" of Christmas, and calls on his readers "who know anything of the 'old, old, very old, gray-bearded gentleman' or his family to aid us in our search after them; and with their good help we will endeavor to restore them to some portion of their ancient honors in England". Father Christmas or Old Christmas, represented as a jolly-faced bearded man often surrounded by plentiful food and drink, started to appear regularly in illustrated magazines of the s.
Charles Dickens 's novel A Christmas Carol was highly influential, and has been credited both with reviving interest in Christmas in England and with shaping the themes attached to it. Old Father Christmas continued to make his annual appearance in Christmas folk plays throughout the 19th century, his appearance varying considerably according to local custom. Sometimes, as in Hervey's book of ,  he was portrayed below left as a hunchback. One unusual portrayal below centre was described several times by William Sandys between and , all in essentially the same terms:  "Father Christmas is represented as a grotesque old man, with a large mask and comic wig, and a huge club in his hand.
A hunchback Old Father Christmas in an play with long robe, holly wreath and staff. An play. The Old Father Christmas character is on the far left. In a Hampshire folk play of Father Christmas is portrayed as a disabled soldier: "[he] wore breeches and stockings, carried a begging-box, and conveyed himself upon two sticks; his arms were striped with chevrons like a noncommissioned officer.
Naughty or Nice? How “Santa” Looks in Other Cultures
In the latter part of the 19th century and the early years of the next the folk play tradition in England rapidly faded,  and the plays almost died out after the First World War  taking their ability to influence the character of Father Christmas with them. In pre-Victorian personifications, Father Christmas had been concerned essentially with adult feasting and games. He had no particular connection with children, nor with the giving of presents.
Nicholas , usually attributed to the New York writer Clement Clarke Moore , which developed the character further. Moore's poem became immensely popular  and Santa Claus customs, initially localized in the Dutch American areas, were becoming general in the United States by the middle of the century.
This noted that one of the chief features of the American New Year's Eve was a custom carried over from the Dutch, namely the arrival of Santa Claus with gifts for the children.
Facts about Father Christmas (Santa Claus) for Kids
Santa Claus is "no other than the Pelz Nickel of Germany He arrives in Germany about a fortnight before Christmas, but as may be supposed from all the visits he has to pay there, and the length of his voyage, he does not arrive in America, until this eve. From advertisements began appearing in UK newspapers for a new transatlantic passenger service to and from New York aboard the Eagle Line's ship Santa Claus ,  and returning visitors and emigrants to the UK on this and other vessels will have been familiar with the American figure.
A Scottish reference has Santa Claus leaving presents on New Year's Eve , with children "hanging their stockings up on each side of the fire-place, in their sleeping apartments, at night, and waiting patiently till morning, to see what Santa Claus puts into them during their slumbers". What will Santa Claus bring us? A Visit from St. Nicholas was published in England in December in Notes and Queries. The Stocking of the title tells of how in England, "a great many years ago", it saw Father Christmas enter with his traditional refrain "Oh! His dress "was a long brown robe which fell down about his feet, and on it were sewed little spots of white cloth to represent snow".
The blurring of public roles occurred quite rapidly. He wore a great furry white coat and cap, and a long white beard and hair spoke to his hoar antiquity. Behind his bower he had a large selection of fancy articles which formed the gifts he distributed to holders of prize tickets from time to time during the day Father Christmas bore in his hand a small Christmas tree laden with bright little gifts and bon-bons, and altogether he looked like the familiar Santa Claus or Father Christmas of the picture book. Nicholas himself. During the s and 70s Father Christmas became a popular subject on Christmas cards , where he was shown in many different costumes.
An illustrated article of explained the concept of The Cave of Mystery. In an imagined children's party this took the form of a recess in the library which evoked "dim visions of the cave of Aladdin" and was "well filled The young guests "tremblingly await the decision of the improvised Father Christmas, with his flowing grey beard, long robe, and slender staff". From the s onwards, Christmas shopping had begun to evolve as a separate seasonal activity, and by the late 19th century it had become an important part of the English Christmas.
Sometimes the two characters continued to be presented as separate, as in a procession at the Olympia Exhibition of in which both Father Christmas and Santa Claus took part, with Little Red Riding Hood and other children's characters in between.
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In the well-lighted window is a representation of Father Christmas, with the printed intimation that 'Santa Claus is arranging within. Even after the appearance of the store grotto, it was still not firmly established who should hand out gifts at parties. A writer in the Illustrated London News of December suggested that a Sibyl should dispense gifts from a 'snow cave',  but a little over a year later she had changed her recommendation to a gypsy in a 'magic cave'. He must have a white head and a long white beard, of course.
Wig and beard can be cheaply hired from a theatrical costumier, or may be improvised from tow in case of need. He should wear a greatcoat down to his heels, liberally sprinkled with flour as though he had just come from that land of ice where Father Christmas is supposed to reside. The nocturnal visitor aspect of the American myth took much longer to become naturalised.
From the s it had been accepted readily enough that presents were left for children by unseen hands overnight on Christmas Eve, but the receptacle was a matter of debate,  as was the nature of the visitor. Before Santa Claus and the stocking became ubiquitous, one English tradition had been for fairies to visit on Christmas Eve to leave gifts in shoes set out in front of the fireplace. Aspects of the American Santa Claus myth were sometimes adopted in isolation and applied to Father Christmas.
In a short fantasy piece, the editor of the Cheltenham Chronicle in dreamt of being seized by the collar by Father Christmas, "rising up like a Geni of the Arabian Nights Hovering over the roof of a house, Father Christmas cries 'Open Sesame' to have the roof roll back to disclose the scene within.
It was not until the s that the tradition of a nocturnal Santa Claus began to be adopted by ordinary people. Folklorists and antiquarians were not, it seems, familiar with the new local customs and Ronald Hutton notes that in the newly formed Folk-Lore Society , ignorant of American practices, was still "excitedly trying to discover the source of the new belief". In January the antiquarian Edwin Lees wrote to Notes and Queries seeking information about an observance he had been told about by 'a country person': "On Christmas Eve, when the inmates of a house in the country retire to bed, all those desirous of a present place a stocking outside the door of their bedroom, with the expectation that some mythical being called Santiclaus will fill the stocking or place something within it before the morning.
This is of course well known, and the master of the house does in reality place a Christmas gift secretly in each stocking; but the giggling girls in the morning, when bringing down their presents, affect to say that Santiclaus visited and filled the stockings in the night. From what region of the earth or air this benevolent Santiclaus takes flight I have not been able to ascertain By the s the American myth had become firmly established in the popular English imagination, the nocturnal visitor sometimes being known as Santa Claus and sometimes as Father Christmas often complete with a hooded robe.
So to bed my bairnies dear. Representations of the developing character at this period were sometimes labelled 'Santa Claus' and sometimes 'Father Christmas', with a tendency for the latter still to allude to old-style associations with charity and with food and drink, as in several of these Punch illustrations:. Any residual distinctions between Father Christmas and Santa Claus largely faded away in the early years of the new century, and it was reported in , "The majority of children to-day It took many years for authors and illustrators to agree that Father Christmas's costume should be portrayed as red—although that was always the most common colour—and he could sometimes be found in a gown of brown, green, blue or white.
Father Christmas's common form for much of the 20th century was described by his entry in the Oxford English Dictionary. He is "the personification of Christmas as a benevolent old man with a flowing white beard, wearing a red sleeved gown and hood trimmed with white fur, and carrying a sack of Christmas presents".
How Old Is Santa?
In an editorial in The Times opined that while most adults may be under the impression that [the English] Father Christmas is home-bred, and is "a good insular John Bull old gentleman", many children, "led away The classic illustration by the US artist Thomas Nast was held to be "the authorised version of how Santa Claus should look—in America, that is. Father Christmas appeared in many 20th century English-language works of fiction, including J.
Tolkien 's Father Christmas Letters , a series of private letters to his children written between and and first published in In , Raymond Briggs's two books were adapted as an animated short film, Father Christmas , starring Mel Smith as the voice of the title character. Modern dictionaries consider the terms Father Christmas and Santa Claus to be synonymous.
The name carries a somewhat socially superior cachet and is thus preferred by certain advertisers. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This article is about the Christmas character of English folklore and myth. For the correspondingly-named character in other countries and languages, see List of Christmas and winter gift-bringers by country. For other uses, see Father Christmas disambiguation.
Christmas-associated figure originating in England. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 19 January The English Year. London: Penguin Books. The Rise and Fall of Merry England. Oxford: Oxford University Press. A Dictionary of English Folklore. The Stripping of the Altars.
Archived from the original on 12 January Retrieved 12 January The Renaissance in Europe: A Reader. The Stations of the Sun. Costumes and Scripts in Elizabethan Theatres. University of Alberta Press. Leeds: University of Leeds BA dissertation. Archived from the original on 29 January Retrieved 14 January Archived from the original on 31 December Bullen, AH ed.
Today, he is thought of mainly as the jolly man in red, but his story stretches all the way back to the 3rd century. Find out more about the history of Santa Claus from his earliest origins to the shopping mall favorite of today, and discover how two New Yorkers—Clement Clark Moore and Thomas Nast—were major influences on the Santa Claus millions of children wait for each Christmas Eve.
The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. It is believed that Nicholas was born sometime around A. Much admired for his piety and kindness, St. Nicholas became the subject of many legends. It is said that he gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick.
One of the best known of the St. Nicholas stories is that he saved three poor sisters from being sold into slavery or prostitution by their father by providing them with a dowry so that they could be married. His feast day is celebrated on the anniversary of his death, December 6. This was traditionally considered a lucky day to make large purchases or to get married. By the Renaissance, St. Nicholas was the most popular saint in Europe. Even after the Protestant Reformation, when the veneration of saints began to be discouraged, St. Nicholas maintained a positive reputation, especially in Holland.
Nicholas made his first inroads into American popular culture towards the end of the 18th century. In December , and again in , a New York newspaper reported that groups of Dutch families had gathered to honor the anniversary of his death. The background of the engraving contains now-familiar Santa images including stockings filled with toys and fruit hung over a fireplace.
Stores began to advertise Christmas shopping in , and by the s, newspapers were creating separate sections for holiday advertisements, which often featured images of the newly-popular Santa Claus. In , thousands of children visited a Philadelphia shop to see a life-size Santa Claus model. In the early s, the Salvation Army needed money to pay for the free Christmas meals they provided to needy families. They began dressing up unemployed men in Santa Claus suits and sending them into the streets of New York to solicit donations. Those familiar Salvation Army Santas have been ringing bells on the street corners of American cities ever since.
It is Nast who gave Santa his bright red suit trimmed with white fur, North Pole workshop, elves, and his wife, Mrs. Nicholas-inspired gift-giver to make an appearance at Christmastime. Similar figures were popular all over the world. Christkind or Kris Kringle was believed to deliver presents to well-behaved Swiss and German children. Nicholas on his holiday missions. In Scandinavia, a jolly elf named Jultomten was thought to deliver gifts in a sleigh drawn by goats. Pere Noel is responsible for filling the shoes of French children.
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Santa Claus (North America)
To this day, on January 5, Babouschka visits Russian children leaving gifts at their bedsides in the hope that one of them is the baby Jesus and she will be forgiven. In Italy, a similar story exists about a woman called La Befana, a kindly witch who rides a broomstick down the chimneys of Italian homes to deliver toys into the stockings of lucky children.
The red-nosed wonder was the creation of Robert L. May, a copywriter at the Montgomery Ward department store.