Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Father Christmas

I was looking for a funny vintage Christmas card for my Monday post ... and became sidetracked. Mostly, I got sidetracked by Santa. And Father Christmas. And St Nicholas. There are so many variations and permutations of this soul over the centuries. His image has changed greatly, from his outfits to his weight, even his attitude. The one constant seems to be his flowing white beard. It all started with my wondering about his coats of many colours - blue, purple, green, brown, red. What a fashion statement he was!

In reality they are not one and the same person.

First up: Father Christmas.

He has been around a very long time. He wasn't called Father Christmas then, of course, because he originated as a pagan figure. Don't we get all our best religious festivities from the pagans? He represented the coming of spring and appeared mid-winter wearing a long, hooded green cloak, and a wreath of holly, ivy, or mistletoe.

When the Saxons invaded, they added their own solstice tradition of Father Time (or Old Winter or King Winter as he was also known) and an old guy would be seen representing him by dressing up in a long, hooded fur cloak and wandering from house to house to be welcomed with food and drink. It was thought that if you were kind to Father Time you would get something good in return (a mild winter, perhaps? or an early spring?). Then came along the Vikings who, with their God Odin, celebrated their own mid-winter as Jultid by dressing up as one of Odin's 12 characters Jul. Odin was a little heftier than Father Time and eventually the once svelte Father Christmas becomes bigger. He changes into a blue cloak and gets to ride a horse and was claimed to have magical powers to know whether people had been bad or good, dispensing gifts to the good and punishment to the bad.
Finally, the Normans came along and brought the story of a 3rd century bishop with them. St Nick came all the way from Turkey and was especially kind to the poor and to children.
So we have a figure who evolved from one who would bless your winter to someone who paid attention to your deeds to someone who loved children.

...the story of St Nicholas and Santa Claus continues.


  1. I only knew about St. Nicholas, I didn't know about the rest. That was very interesting. All the best things come from the pagans.

  2. Those crazy pagans. Many of the original Christmas carols were pagan party songs. In the thirteenth century, St. Francis of Assissi wrote pious lyrics to go with the pagan tunes. I wrote a paper on this for college 19 years ago. I was going to write about the history of the artificial Christmas tree but could find NOTHING about them at the time. I should have called some artificial tree companies. I probably could have had my story published in the newspaper or some magazines. Anyway, the histories of all the different Christmas traditions are always fun. But really? Silver aluminum trees? What was that about?

  3. You have certainly done your homework!
    Great post! Liked the cards!

  4. Great stuff, and there I was thinking he was a marketing ploy by Coca Cola!! Sorry haven't visited lately, our PC went belly-up and have only just got back online tonight.

  5. Beautiful card portrayal of our beloved St. Nick. I have a glass ornament of one wearing a dark blue robe. It's one of the first ones I bought. I always make sure to buy at least one box of cards with a pretty Santa to send to the families with little ones.

  6. I've always thought Sanat seemd like a slightly sinister character, beneath that jolly veneer. The whole thing about keeping a list of bad children just seems so mean-spirited.

  7. Thanks for the interesting research. Unfortunately, I think Santa works for big corporations nowadays.

  8. This is great to have all in one place here. The cards are soooooo beautiful. Funny how he gained weight. I guess we all evolve, huh?

    Very interesting. Do you put your cards out on display at Christmas?

  9. In Antwerp, Belgium, Santa started making direct political statements during the grand opening of the local Christmas market.

    We were not shocked or even mildly surprised, but only wished someone brought back the Santa they must have stolen from us all ;-)

    Ah, Christmas cards! I still absolutely love them, but unfortunately email seems to have killed them.

    Well, I'm no longer receiving any.

  10. Irene: the pagans knew how to celebrate

    Geewits: a paper on white, or even the ghastly blue, xmas trees might have been very enlightening. I've wondered, too, WTH??

    Maggie May: the cards were my inspiration.

    Sagittarian: that story is to come.

    CotW: and his predecessors were even more mean-spirited.

    Susan: I think I like the blue robed St Nick best, (and it is apparently rarer?)

    LGS: He is certainly being overused by them.

    Ruth: I want to start a collection of Father Christmas cards now that I've seen all these.

    Peter: ah, I'll send you a card (I've got plenty of stamps now for my postcards, LOL)

  11. And now he's evolved (devolved?) into a marketing tool to make us spend ever more cash.

  12. Excellent informative post. I definitely prefer to old fashioned red and white outfit, big fat belly and huge sack of pressies!!

    CJ xx

  13. I'm going to have to re read this in the morning when I'm fully awake....beautiful pictures though :)
    Katie, x


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