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.

Easter Celebrations in Malta

Malta is a predominantly Catholic country, this means that most Maltese follow and adhere to a yearly religious calendar which gives importance to a number of recurring feasts and traditions. Among these, Easter is one of the most prominent periods, since it not only has a specific religious meaning, symbolizing the rising of Christ, but also coincides with the beginning of Spring, which also serves to bring new life in nature, better weather, a flourishing of crops, and add energy and verve to the life of each individual in general.

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During this time, numerous processions, plays, marches and celebrations take place throughout the islands of Malta and Gozo, since here, Easter celebration can be said to be at a par with Christmas. As in most Mediterranean countries, Malta starts to officially celebrate the Easter period with Palm Sunday, which this year will be on Sunday 9th April. Many activities take place even before that, during Holy Week, which technically commences on the Friday preceding Good Friday, when the statue of Our Lady of Sorrows is carried in a procession through the streets of Valletta and many other towns and villages. This is a historic and traditional demonstration, where penitents who have made certain vows or asked for intercession from above, walk barefoot through the streets behind the procession, with chains and shackles tied to their feet as a symbol of their guilt and willingness to atone for their sins.

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Prior to Good Friday, many believers also celebrate Maundy Thursday or, as it is known in Maltese, ‘Ħamis ix-Xirka’, whereby most churches are decorated with flowers, models of the last supper, pennons and other specific decorations. During Maundy Thursday, it is traditional for the devout to perform ‘The Seven Visits’, or ‘Is-Sebgħa Visti’, which entails visiting and praying at seven different churches. Maundy Thursday is also referred to as Holy Thursday or the Mass of the Chrism, since on this day, the Archbishop of Malta blesses the Holy Oils during a ceremony at St. John’s Cathedral in Valletta.

Good Friday, which is a National Public Holiday in Malta, is considered to be a serious and solemn occasion. Churches are adorned with dark colors, and several processions occur throughout most towns and villages in Malta and Gozo, where priests or devout carry different statues symbolizing the Passion of Christ. Most villages also prepare short dramas or plays, enacted by devout dressed as characters from the Bible. Processions are almost always accompanied by marching bands, playing funeral marches or religious songs.

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The mood of the celebrations starts to change on Saturday evening. This is known as Holy Saturday and while starting in a somber manner, culminates with a celebration whereby all churches are illuminated with candles, lights, song and the tolling of the bells.

Easter Sunday, starts with a procession which commemorates the Risen Christ. The most famous of all such processions which take place around the island is surely the one which takes place in Valletta, and which is organised by the Confraternity of the Risen Christ, which traces its origins to the 17th century. The procession is a festive one, accompanied by beautiful traditional tunes and statues. Children also form an important part of the procession, carrying traditional foods and sweets, of which the most important is surely the ‘figolla’. This is a Maltese sugar and almond pastry which can only be found served in Maltese bakeries and confectioneries during the period of Easter, since it is synonymous with this feast.

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© DDM

This article was published on LivingInMalta.com – to view the complete article go here.

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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