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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Mini-Break in Sicily – Day 1

We were quite lucky this December as Thursday 8th and Tuesday 13th, which are Maltese national holidays, made it possible for us to take a 6-day break from work without taking too many days off. Since people don’t work during National Holidays we just needed to take Friday 9th and Monday 12th as Vacation Leave off from work and off we went for a 4-night mini break to the nearby island of Sicily!

Thanks to Ryanair the flight was only 30euro each – yes with the return flight included! And we only needed hand luggage for those few days so we didn’t even need to pay for extra luggage.

I just love Sicily. Had already visited twice, once during the first year with my boyfriend (it was our first holiday together) and the second time was just last June! Thing is flights there are so cheap and there is so much to see and experience that I never tire of going there to relax and explore!

We usually take the flight to the Airport in Trapani and stay in the Western side of Sicily. This time we took a flight to the Airport of Catania on the Eastern part of the island instead so we visited an entirely different region.

The flight from Malta only took 35 minutes – yes we are THAT close! We arrived in the afternoon and there was enough time to visit the Christmas market in Catania itself before heading to the self catering apartment we had rented in the historical city of Noto, which is approximately an hour away by car from Catania.

I admit, the Christmas open market was smaller than I thought it would be, yet its charm was that everything was handmade and so very cute and original! Loved those stalls!

After a quick trip to a local supermarket for milk, cereal and other needful things, off we went to discover our new apartment which we had only seen in photos. Needless to be said we were charmed – wouldn’t you be? Look at my pics!

That night we decided on a quite eve in. We wanted to enjoy some time alone plus the excitement had tired us out. We cooked some burgers and chips and cuddled while planning what to do on day Number 2… not to mention enjoying that big TV!

More about Day 2 in a future post!

Halloween Movies perfect for Kids!

Halloween also called All Hallow’s Eve and Samhain, this Autumn festival historically marks the end of harvest season and the beginning of Wintertime. Celtic and Gaelic traditions saw huge bonfires lit, as well as celebrations to mark the occasion. This is where the practice of dressing up comes from, since costumes were supposed to keep the cold, dark, evil spirits at bay by confusing them. It was the last festivity before the onset of the coldest months.

Today, we’re fortunate enough to live in a time where electricity, air-conditioners, heaters, and a marked jump in health institutions are enough to keep most of the cold chilly darkness under control. Nonetheless, we still celebrate Halloween. Apart from the usual parties, costume competitions, pumpkin fairs and trick-or-treating, many also take the opportunity to watch some good old horror movies to get into the mood.

Here are a number of some old favourite movies which I always make a point to watch during this time. These are not films of the slasher-horror type, but rather those which I associate with childhood, and which always leave me feeling of good cheer. Definitely ‘must-sees’ for all those with children and for those who can’t handle scary flicks!

The Tim Burton QuartetThe Nightmare before Christmas(1993), Corpse Bride (2005), Beetlejuice (1988) and Edward Scissorhands (1990). Tim Burton’s work is just perfect to watch cuddled on the sofa while a heavy rain lashes against the windowpanes. These dark fantasy movies are all, somehow or other, centred around Halloween. The first two mentioned are animated, full of catchy tunes and delightful characters. In fact, the ghouls, ghosts, skeletons and monsters aren’t scary at all. Although all of these movies are targeted at children, they also have dark sinister meanings which only adults will be able to appreciate, and which have nothing to do with Halloween and everything to do with the society we live in; a society which can be cruel and intolerant, and end up pressuring people into doing what is acceptable instead of being happy with their own individuality.

Hocus Pocus (1993) – I must admit, the Sanderson sisters have always been my favorite media witches. Especially Bettie Middler, who’s somehow perfect in her rendition of an angry yet funny medieval witch, who after being burnt at the stake, comes back to the present to take her revenge. Unfortunately, she and her sisters are totally unprepared for today’s world, not to mention today’s children, who are much pluckier and smarter than the ones she was used to.

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The Addams Family (1991) – The stories of this eccentric, affectionate clan who don’t care what others might think about them have always been close to my heart, and the 1991 rendition with Angelica Houston as Morticia, Christopher Lloyd as Uncle Fester and Christina Ricci as Wednesday is just perfect in complementing Halloween. The Addams seem to live in a perennial Halloween all year round. Their neighbors think them strange, and society tries to shun them. And yet, they love and care for each other, especially when it matters the most.

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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/2016/10/26/halloween-movies-for-the-faint-hearted/

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

Missing the cottage… yes more about Ireland ;p

When you live in a European island which is famed for its sun and beaches, where 9 months out of 12 you are sweating in the too-warm temperatures while wearing a sleeveless top and flip flops, and where it has only snowed a couple of times (literally) in the historical memory of the place, going on holiday somewhere in the mountains where the temperature habitually varies between -1.5 and 3.5 degrees celsius on a good day IS A BIG DEAL.

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In all of my life, I have never seen snow yet, not even when abroad more’s the pity – I have never been in extremely cold temperatures, not even when I visited the Dolomite mountains, and I have never been skiing. As an islander who takes hot weather, days at the beach, ice cream, and fun in the sun, as an everyday occurence, I can hardly imagine what living in such weather could be like.

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Right now, anyone reading this who actually does live somewhere cold, must think I’m crazy to want to experience such a thing. But really, I think one of the goals in life is to experience as much as possible, so living somewhere different in different conditions, is for me, something to do at least once.

Although I did not see and feel snow on my face and around me in Ireland this December, it WAS an experience. I literally froze my fingers off at times, still, coming to our rented self-catering cottage in the evenings, lighting the stove, and huddling under the blankets while sipping some hot tea, was awesome in itself. Something I had read about only in novels.

Our cottage was just lovely. Really small – having only one bedroom, one bathroom, a living room and a kitchen, yet totally perfect.

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Here is the link to its page on Tripadvisor – my review is actually still pending as of now, but I guess you might be able to read it at a later date – I left a 5-star rating ofc!

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/VacationRentalReview-g212097-d2222755-THE_GRANARY_country_holiday_cottage_with_open_fire_in_Cahir_Ref_8661-Cahir_County_Tipp.html

When the weather is so unkind, finding a little unlooked for friendliness gives one an unconditioned and natural warmth, one which is only to be felt in the heart. We arrived at the cottage on a very cold morning at around 1.30am. We had had no time to buy any food for our breakfast and expected our arrival to be pretty hard, since the owner was leaving us the key in a flower pot near the door. We were so wrong! As we parked, we could see the flickering welcoming light of the stove in the living room and the lampshade near the sofa sending us a cheery light – the owner had prepared them for us to show us the way and keep the place warm.

Also, when we went in, we realized she had left us some home-made scones for our breakfast togather with some butter, jam, tea, coffee, sugar and milk… it felt so good to know that someone cared for us in a country were we did not know anyone! Small touches of welcome and friendship from someone we did not know were so much welcome. 🙂

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