Where does Father Christmas come from?

He is round. He is jolly. He is dressed in red and has a long, white beard.

Christmas is a time of joy and celebration and one of its most famous icons is the toy-making, present-giver Father Christmas, or Santa Claus. Ho-ho-ing away cheerily, he drives his sleigh through the skies to bring toys to good children, all over the world. He clambers down their chimneys and eats offerings of cookies and milk, before leaving the presents in the prepared socks.

Or so the story goes.

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But where did Santa Claus really come from?

This mythical figure exists in several other countries and is called by many different names. Papa Noel in Spain, Saxta Baba in Azerbaijan, Dyado Koleda in Bulgaria, Babbo Natale in Italy, and Daidí na Nollagin Ireland, to name but a few.

In England, the earliest personification of Father Christmas does not present him as a giver of toys or as a lover of children. An old Carol addresses him as ‘Nowell’ and ‘Sir Christmas’, the personification of the season who encourages people to eat, drink and make merry and who has nothing at all to do with toys and presents.

The specific depiction of Father Christmas as a merry old man emerged in the early 17th century, when the rise of Puritanism led to an increase in the condemnation of all excess – including eating, drinking and feasting. In 1866, Thomas Nast, a cartoon artist, made a montage entitled ‘Santa Clause his Works’, and for the first time, established ‘Santa’ as a maker of toys. At the time, Father Christmas, began to emerge as a kind, jolly old gentleman, giving to the poor and the needy.

Eventually, he was associated with Saint Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra. The legend surrounding Saint Nicholas, or in Dutch, Sinter Klaas (who became Santa Claus to the Americans) states that he was a shy man who wanted to give money to the poor without being seen. Once, he tried throwing money from a roof, and the money accidentally landed in a sock which a girl had left to dry by the fireplace. This is where the tradition of leaving a sock for Father Xmas to fill came from and why he is said to come down from the chimney.

However, we need to go further back in time than that. Father Xmas was originally part of an old English midwinter festival and he was usually dressed in green, a sign of the returning spring. He was, literally, the personification of the season and he was known as ‘Old Man Winter’.

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The Ghost of Christmas Present in Charles Dicken’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ (1843) is based on Old Man Winter. He is described as a large man with a red beard and a fur-lined green cloak. Images of Santa Claus dressed in red only started to appear on Christmas greeting cards late in Victorian times.

The Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore entry on Father Christmas considers him to be a pre-Reformation and medieval Yule-tide visitor, who is entirely separate from St Nicholas and Sinter Klaas, only being combined with his legend (and thus becoming associated with giving presents to children) in the 1870s.

In truth, the origins of Santa Claus can be traced back to the 600s, when the Saxons who invaded and settled in Britain had the custom of giving human characteristics to the weather elements, welcoming the characters of King or Lord Frost, Lord Snow, etc. to their homes in the hope that the elements would look kindly on them. Actors dressed in cloaks and ivy would represent the season and feast amidst the revellers.

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The Vikings also brought with them legends of their god Odin, who was the father of all the other Norse gods. He is said to have worn a disguise during the feast of Yule (that is, the Winter solstice which takes place on 21st December, the longest night of the year). He mingled with his subjects dressed in a hooded cloak, giving him the chance to listen to his people and see if they were happy or not. He was portrayed as a sage with a long white beard.

Even further back than the occupation of Britain by the Saxons, there was the pagan Celtic worship of the Winter Holly King, who prevailed during the winter months and who provided for and protected his people during the coldest months of the year.

Be he Father Christmas, Sinter Klaast, Saint Nicholas, Odin, or the Holly King, what’s for sure is that the legend of Old Man Winter has prevailed throughout the ages, not only as the personification of Winter, but as a way of bringing families and friends closer together in a time when, although the weather is harsh and life is tough, everyone still goes on feasting and making merry with loved ones.

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N.B This article was written by me and originally published on Eve magazine.

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Where to go this St. Patrick’s Day in Malta

Malta is known for its nightlife, not to mention the love of the Maltese for celebration and partying. Be it summer festas, weekend parties, or open-air concerts, any excuse is a worthwhile justification for making merry.

The Irish feast of Saint Patrick’s, which is a cultural and religious celebration held yearly on the 17th of March, is no exception. Unlike the Irish, for whom Saint Patrick is the patron saint, the Maltese have no particular claims on this festivity as such, yet, this is not a deterrent to those of us who waste no time in donning Irish green, raising our beer glasses, and preparing ourselves for a day of inebriated merriment.

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Fortunately for us, this year Saint Patrick’s will be taking place on a Saturday, instead of on a weekday, which is usually the case, to the moans and groans of early risers everywhere. So, grab your tall green hats, your special mug, and your partying spirit, and head off to any one of these suggested events around the island:

St. Patrick’s Sunday in Floriana – For those who prefer to celebrate this religious feast in a more traditional way, this is surely the event to go. Hosted by the Floriana Local Council, the event will be taking place on Sunday 11th, instead of on Saturday 17th. Floriana’s take on this festivity goes back to the beginning of the 20th century. This year, the celebrations will centre opposite the Police Headquarters in Floriana, and will feature live music by Fakawi, Planet Seed and Kevin Borg. The event will start at 1.00pm and go on till around 7pm. Guinness on draught, food stalls, and a kids area, will be available. Entrance is free. For more info, visit – https://www.facebook.com/events/218510788695194/

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Hugo’s Terrace goes Green – Known for its stylish décor and fabulous cocktails, Hugo’s Terrace this year is celebrating Saint Paddy’s with a live U2 Tribute by Muzzle. Dj’s Mia Wave & Leo Max will also be performing on the night. Entrance is free and doors will open at 8pm. For more information, visit – https://www.facebook.com/events/593741454291527/

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St. Patrick’s Day at Ryan’s Pub – This iconic Irish Pub is definitely one of the Maltese’s favourite venues on this most Irish of days. The downside is that it will surely be packed to the rafters on Saturday 17th. Squeezing in through hordes of shouting people towards the bar has also its cons however, not only because one can meet new people and make new friends, but most notably because of the live entertainment, not to mention the delicious food-stand featuring amazing burgers by Chef Daniel Grech. Early birds are more than welcome, since festivities at Ryan’s are known to kick as early as midday! For more info, go to – https://www.facebook.com/events/1822628434704559/

St. Patrick’s Day at TRUTH – More early celebrations start off at midday at this popular concept club within the heart of Paceville. Offering an eclectic mix of food and entertainment, TRUTH features some of the best DJs from the local dance music scene. In honour of Saint Patrick’s on the 17th the line-up will include Pocci, Ziggy, JJoy, and Nikki VP, amongst others. Those interested in knowing more about the event, please visit – https://www.facebook.com/events/175335219752284/

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Live Irish Music at The Orchard Restaurant – Offering a free half pint of Guinness, a shot of Baileys or a shot of Jameson Whiskey with every meal, The Orchard Restaurant surely knows how to attract its customers! Live Irish Music by Keltika Keoltoiri and performances on the mandolin, the Irish harp, guitar and piano, will also help to create a special evening to be remembered. For more information, visit – https://www.facebook.com/theorchardmalta/

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This article was written by me and originally published here.

Costumes trending this Halloween

 This year has been an iconic one for promoting fantastical characters, outlooks and styles. The media, not to mention the big and small screens, have done the best they could to dazzle, wow and impress us with an array of fashionable, cheeky and even retro looks. Last year, apart from the usual sexy nurses, she-devils and guys wearing a boiler-suit, Halloween was populated with Elsas, zombies, and even wanna-be Kim Kardashians.

Here’s what I’m betting we’ll see a lot of this year:

The Joker – This one never seems to get old, especially since the big screen seems to be re-inventing a new version of him every other year. In his last transformation, I must admit that he looks less like something that’s come out of a comic book and more like something that’s come out of a crayola factory, with some pesticide-induced euphoria thrown in. Thank you Suicide Squad

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Harley Quinn – Yup, kind of the female version of the above, except that she’s wearing a ‘F*** me Daddy’- I mean, a ‘Daddy’s Lil Monster’ T-shirt, and a pair of panties which I’m guessing are supposed to be micro-shorts. For those who don’t know, at the beginning of the story, Dr Quinn is actually a very smart psychiatrist working at Arkham Asylum. Her brains seem to fly right out of the window when she meets and becomes obsessed with the Joker, and she decides to chuck over her life and career to join him as a cute sexy sidekick. After all, that’s what women in love do right? Again, cheers Suicide Squad.

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Assassin’s Creed – This on-going franchise never seems to lose its fascinating historical charm. 2016 not only saw the release of the Assassin’s Creed’s Chronicles last February, but finally also marked the completed filming of the eponymous movie, which was also partly filmed in Malta, and which will be out in theaters next December.

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To read the rest of the article, which was published on EVE magazine follow the direct link: http://www.eve.com.mt/2016/10/25/costumes-trending-this-halloween/

No more Patriarchal Religions! We need to go back to our roots and true balance!

Two days ago I randomly picked out one of those books which you bought coz it looks so interesting, and you know it is, but always start and never manage to finish anyways. This time I got along a little further than the last time – it IS good. This passage struck me particularly as it encapsulates one of the main tenets which bugs me about most structured popular religions and sects nowadays (and by nowadays I mean which cropped up during the last couple of millenia).

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‘For tens of thousands of years feminine symbols represented the universal  life force known as God. For the past 3,500 to 4,000 years, masculine imagery has represented God. All thinking people know that the source of all creation is neither male nor female, but the choice of imagery has had the effect of unbalancing the psyches of individuals and of civilisation. A balance in the symbolism of the archetypal force that represents God needs to be brought into the consciousness of every man, woman and child so that humanity will not destroy our Earth Mother. The Goddess and the laws of Nature embodied in her worship need to be brought back into consciousness so that a balanced order can prevail on this planet and on all the life forms living on it…’

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‘… The Great Goddess… was the Creatrix of all life – her realm included the entire cosmos. All the functions of the Goddess represent aspects of the total qualities of that deity. She was a reflection of the cultural and spiritual life of the peoples who worshipped her, the source or perpetual renewal, supplying all their needs and hopes, inspiring their value system.’

– From ‘The Sacred Whore: Sheela Goddess of the Celts’ by Maureen Concannon

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Finally – Imbolc is Coming!!

Pronounced: EE-Molc
Incense: Rosemary, Frankincense, Myrrh, Cinnamon
Decorations: Corn Dolly, Besom, Spring Flowers
Colours: White, Orange, Red

While for many people, next weekend is a normal weekend like any other, for Pagans and Wiccans the world over the 1st and 2nd of February are very important, as the Wheel of the Year turns once again, and the festival of Imbolc is celebrated and enjoyed.

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Imbolc, found between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, marks the beginning of Spring, and is also called Brigid’s Day. Historically it was mostly observed in Wales, Ireland and Scotland and the Isle of Man, where this aspect of the Goddess was most predominant, and it is one of the four Celtic fire festivals.

This is yet another Pagan tradition which the Romans, and through them the Christian sect, warped and appropriated, turning Brigid, Goddess of the Spring and New Life, into their Christianised representation – Saint Brigid – lol surprise, surprise. When Ireland converted to Christianity, it was hard to convince people to get rid of their old gods, so the church allowed them to worship the Goddess Brigid as a saint — thus the creation of St. Brigid’s Day. Today, there are many churches around the world which bear her name. The Christian version of Imbolc is also called Candlemas.

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This is a festival of hearth and home, involving hearthfires, divination through fire, as well as the joyous celebration of the coming Spring. It commemorates the changing aspect of the Goddess from Crone to Maiden, the successful passing of Winter, and the emergence of new leaves and greenery.

It is Feile Brighde, the ‘quickening of the year’. The original word Imbolg means ‘in the belly’, and therein you have the underlying energy. All is pregnant and expectant – and only just visible if at all, like the gentle curve of a ‘just-showing’ pregnancy. It is the promise of renewal, of hidden potential, of earth awakening and life-force stirring.

Like Persephone coming out of the Underworld, Brigid represents the light and bright half of the year.

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Celebrants prepare a special meal on this day, as well as weave rushes or stalks of wheat or barley, into what is known as a Brigid’s Cross, symbolising not just the human figure, but also the seasons and the elements. Brigid’s symbol is often hung on doors and windows, in order to symbolise the household’s welcoming of Brigid into their home.

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It is traditional upon Imbolc, at sunset or just after ritual, to light every lamp in the house – if only for a few moments, or light candles in each room in honor of the Sun’s rebirth.

Traditionally, some covens also have their ritual Maiden wear a ‘Brigid’s Crown’, a wreath made of fresh flowers and green grass, and sporting 12 small candles around, as representation of the fiery Goddess.

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Foods appropriate to eat on this day include those from the dairy, since Imbolc marks the festival of calving. Sour cream dishes are fine. Spicy and full-bodied foods in honour of the Sun are equally attuned. Curries and all dishes made with peppers, onions, leeks, shallots, garlic or chives are appropriate. Spiced wines and dishes containing raisins – all foods symbolic of the Sun – are also traditional.

MERRY IMBOLC!! 😀

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Christians afraid of others’ beliefs

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-30919259

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Lol seriously? Get a life!

If one is sure of one’s own beliefs, one does not need to destroy others’!! This sort of behavior just shows the thieves’ weakness and their own uncertainity, since they obviously need to deface other people’s creeds in order to feel secure with their own.

How utterly stupid and futile.

Packing for Ireland – Of books and Gods

Finally the day is approaching! We leave on Saturday!

‘Leave’ – such a great word. I have so much I want to leave behind. So many feelings and hurts which I try to suppress and forget, but which creep out silently on clawed feet to haunt me at night. Sweaty nightmares and unshed tears apart, escapism is all very well, but is it enough?

Yesterday I started packing. I had made a list earlier – well two really. One was a list of things I needed to bag i.e clothes, jackets, socks, etc. The other more important one was a list of ‘those books’ which for some reason or other, seemed kind of perfect reading for Ireland! I know books kinda weight a lot but…

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YES I’m gonna take and read all of those. And yes I can manage thank you! Apart from a three hour flight to Ireland and back, we have some serious long drives, not to mention the fact that night dons its mantle at 4pm in Ire, so probably we’ll start exploring early, but snuggle tightly in our cottage early too. Not that I’m complaining mind you, there are many things one can do in a cottage ;p

At the moment I’m re-reading ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ (read previous post). It’s almost done actually, so ‘Hollow City’, its sequel, comes next. There are three masterpieces by Neil Gaiman which, again, I’m re-reading for the second time just because I miss Neil I guess hehe. Also Ireland, full of Celtic Gods, faeries, seelie myths and history, puts me in a Gaiman kind of mood.

Next comes a find from a second-hand bookstore, James Herbert’s ‘The Ghosts of Sleath’ which is basically a haunting horror mystery taking place in a small mysterious British town.

And to round up, there’s Greg Keyes’ ‘Kingdoms of Bones and Thorn’ quartet. Through the beautifully crafted plot and characters, the one which shines in my estimation and the reason why I’m lugging these books along to Ireland, is the Briar King. God of the Forest, reminiscent of Cernunnos, and the Green Man, and personification of the power of mighty wisdom encapsulated within the earth, this character fascinates and grips me so totally that I wanted to experience it in a country which I associate with the beauty of nature so much.

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