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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Preparing for Winter!

It’s that time of the year again, when the air gets suddenly chillier, the nights start to tiptoe in earlier, my fluffy socks seem more and more attractive, and all I want to do is snuggle in bed with a good book – though, to be honest, in my case I feel like this all year round lol.

Apart from focusing on my Stephen King marathon these past two months, I also bought (or found online) a number of good, old fashioned, horror stories. First of all, might I say that I just LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Shirley Jackson! Yes, I know that everyone’s bonkers about her ‘The Lottery’, but my favorite is and always will be ‘We will always live in the Castle’. I can’t help it, I get Merricat TOTALLY! Make of that what you will ;p

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Another thing, after gobbling up Dan Simmons’ ‘Drood’ a couple of months ago, the fantastic premise just wouldn’t leave my brain. Apart from my fixation on Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins’ skewed perspective just tickled by fancy straight to neverwhere. So, when I came across ‘The Moonstone’ and ‘The Woman in White’ on sale at the bookstore, and realized that I had never actually read them, I obviously HAD TO BUY THEM!

Next up, I realized that the only Ray Bradbury book in my actual possession was ‘Something Wicked this Way Comes’, so obviously I ordered ‘Fahrenheit 451’ and ‘The Illustrated Man’, which are amazingly cheap on Book Depository. I don’t know whether to take that as an insult, or just count my blessings.

Anyways, how’s that for a good start to some Winter reading?

P.S An article of mine on Winter Reading will be coming out on EVE.COM soon, however obviously the article is totally different, as are most of the novels mentioned, since I tried to refer to books which might be more approachable by the masses ;p I also gave very short summaries of the books, instead of just gushing out about the ones I have waiting for me on my bedside table at home without giving any explanation for the unenlightened ;-p

The Secret Sin of Writing

It is a truth universally acknowledged that what sells, and GOOD WRITING are two very different things. It is also a fact that most artistic geniuses, which are freely viewed as such today, were nobodies when they were alive, and in fact many of them were unbelievably poor and wretched.

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Not all of them of course, Charles Dickens, being a carismatic charmer, made more money out of his public readings, which advertised his own writing skills, than from his journalistic writings. Mozart, who was a child-prodigy, wowed the nobility with his precociousness, and Lord Byron was also well-known not only for his boyish Casanova-like behavior, but also for his poetry and grace. These however are just flukes, and not the norm at all.

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What sells is what magazines and newspapers look for. What sells is the thing most Editors really consider when reading a draft for the first time. Shakespeare was a struggling playwright in his time – one of the many trying to gain the attention of the nobility to earn a living. The same could be said for Marlowe, Blake and many other such artistic geniuses. They tried to find a balance between pleasing the masses and being true to their art. One wonders what great artistic treasures they could have produced, had they not been constrained by the need to earn money through the use of their talent.

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I need money. Doesn’t everyone? Now more than ever, I need money. This is the point in my life where I think, I will need money most. That is why I totally understand how and why a writer, a musician, an artist, sometimes has to prostitute his or her talent. It does not mean I like it. Hopefully, it will not always be so. I will always need money of course, but I dream of a time in future, when I will be comfortable enough to at least relegate my office hours to work, and then afterwards be free to write whatever I want, for the sole pleasure of writing it, and not for any other ulterior motives.

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Of course, if others like reading what I write, and I make a gazzillion euros out of it, I won’t complain either ;p

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