This week we’re straying from our normal territory and providing a wee history lesson to our younger readers on Father Christmas, or Santa Claus.
He has many names throughout the globe; In Belgium he’s Pere Noel, in the USA he’s Kris Kringle and in Holland he is known as Sinterklaas.
The latter is believed to be a form of Saint Nicholas, who was a 4th-century Greek bishop from a province of the Byzantine Empire, now in Turkey. Nicholas was famous for his generous gifts to the poor.
Father Christmas dates back as far as the 16th century here in the UK. During the reign of Henry VIII, he was pictured as a large man in green or scarlet robes lined with fur, and was probably the precursor to the present day images attributed to who we now associate with santa Claus.
He typified the spirit of good cheer at Christmas, bringing peace, joy, good food and wine and revelry. Many countries, especially ones in Europe, celebrate St. Nicholas’ Day on December 6.
As the UK no longer kept the feast day of Saint Nicholas on December 6, the Father Christmas celebration was moved to December 25 to coincide with Christmas Day.
The Victorian period saw not only the revival of Christmas, but was responsible for probably the largest period of promotion for the festival including Father Christmas.
The most famous story about St. Nicholas tells how the custom of hanging up stockings to get presents first started. There was a poor man who had three daughters. He was so poor, he did not have enough money for a dowry, so his daughters could get married.
One night, Nicholas secretly dropped a bag of gold down the chimney and into the house. The bag fell into a stocking that had been hung by the fire to dry - and there the legend of santa and gifts in stockings probably started.
In 1823 the famous poem ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ or ‘T’was the Night before Christmas’ was written. The poem describes eight reindeer and gives them their names. They have since become really well known in the song ‘Rudolph the Red nosed Reindeer’, written in 1949. Do you know all eight names?- Answers are at the end.
Some people say that Santa lives at the North Pole. In Finland, they claim that he lives in the northern part of their country, in an area called Lapland.
But everyone agrees that he travels through the sky on a sledge that is pulled by those eight reindeer, that he comes into houses down the chimney at night and leaves presents for children who have been good.
There’s a Christmas urban legend that says that Santa’s red suit was designed by Coca-Cola and that they might even ‘own’ him!
This is definitely NOT TRUE! Long before Coke had been invented, St Nicholas had worn his Bishop’s red robes. During Victorian times, he wore a range of colours but red was always his favourite!
In January 1863, the magazine Harper’s Weekly published the first illustration of St Nicholas by Thomas Nast. Over the next 20 years Thomas Nast continued to draw Santa every Christmas. This is when Santa really started to develop his big tummy and the style of red and white outfit which has become synonymous with him today.