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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PERSONAL – December Ups and Downs

This has been one roller-coaster of a month. Plenty of highs and lows. So, in a nutshell:

During the first week of December, me and my boyfriend went to Sicily for a short 4-day break. You can read the first part of how that went here, but I’ve still got to continue writing about the rest of the trip. You might ask yourself – why is she taking this long to write about a mere 4-day long trip? The point is, I love travelling – I am simply enchanted by the plethora of emotions, new thoughts and ways of perceiving the world which open up whenever I set foot in a country different from my own, with ‘exotic’ mentalities, colors, history and trends, SO I actually don’t find it that easy to describe it all when I come back, because there is just SO MUCH TO SAY! In fact, if you look through my past posts, you’ll realize that I’ve never actually sat down and documented each and every one of the places I’ve traveled to – simply because there are so many of them. However I told myself I’d make an attempt with this 4-day Sicily trip just to see how it would go. Anyhow, there you have it, still to be continued. And don’t worry, it WILL be, all in its own good time.

Got sidetracked there. Sorry.

On our last day in Sicily, I woke up suffering from some serious back-pain. Sciatica to be precise. The pain extended down to my left leg and I could hardly walk. Needless to be said, the last day was the climax of our trip, as we had planned on going for a jeep-trip up Mount Etna… you think I flunked that? AS IF! I still went. Hopping and wincing and dragging my sorry carcass up the whole mountain. And boy, was I glad I did!

More of that in future posts relating to the actual holiday.

We came back on the 12th. Tuesday 13th was a local Public Holiday so I didn’t have to go to work, and spent the whole day in bed resting and hoping my back would get better. It didn’t. On Wednesday, I went to the doctors’ who gave me pills, painkillers, and the advice to get MORE rest. So, that was the second week of December – which I spent in bed sleeping off my pills.

Luckily for me, the pain retreated, and I was okeyish for the weekend. This was important since my birthday was on Saturday 17th, and I knew that my boyfriend had planned the whole weekend with events for me. That is what we do – I plan stuff for his birthday and he plans stuff for mine. We spent some days meeting friends and family, and I really enjoyed that. Kudos luv! Not to mention that one of the pressies I received is a nice voucher from Ryanair to be redeemed by November 2017! Yay!

On Monday I felt a bit better and so went back to work, taking a large cake with me for my colleagues in celebration of my birthday. The cake was in fact so large, that we are still eating from it (we are a small department). And today is the 27th! During the third week of December we also had our ‘official’ Xmas party at work. The food, I admit, wasn’t anything spectacular, HOWEVER I did make up for it with alcohol consumption… enough said. Unfortunately this also meant that I was too tipsy and suffering from a hangover to actually do my Yule ritual. Ah well, I’m sure the Gods didn’t mind all that much since I celebrated with libation anyways.

On the 24th I cooked and slaved the whole day to prepare an enormous family dinner. Family members came late, and I was quite angry about that, but it was ok in the end and the food was a huge success. We still have our fridge packed with delicious left-overs. On the 25th we ate an enormous Indian buffet, after which Aunt Flo came to visit, and actually floored me. I had to stay home and rest to cope with that, so I missed another family gathering in the evening.

I’m so so tired of eating… AND YES my weight has gone up again! Frankly after noticing the first 3 kilos, I stayed away altogether from the bathroom scales… they scare me.

January will come soon enough, and then it will be time to face the music all right!

 

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/

Lohri – Another aspect of Yule

I did not write about Yule last December, basically because everyone else did. We all know what Yule is – it is a celebration of life which takes place during the longest night of the year. When the year is at its coldest and the earth is the furthest away from the sun, which physically takes place on the 21st of December – the Winter Solstice, when the Goddess brings forth the God in darkness, as a sign that from now on, all will be life again.

It is a festival of the sun, which is present in its absence. It is a time of joy amid the terror. A time to remember what we have, when it all seems so distant and far away.

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I did not write about Yule, but now I wish to at least mention the Festival of Lohri, which takes place in India today, on the 13th of January. Lohri is another manifestation of Yule, celebrated in a Northern region of India. People come out of their homes to celebrate their winter crops, of which the main one is wheat. They celebrate the promise of what is to come. Renewed life.

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In the evening, with the setting of the sun, huge bonfires are lit and the people dance and sing around them, praying for abundance and prosperity. Lohri celebrates fertility and the joy of life.

As we move closer to the feast of the Goddess Eostre, who with her eggs and hares, symbols of fertility, leads us to the Spring Equinox, we sing in joy and are grateful for the life, the love, and the beauty which surrounds us. We let go of the ugliness and minutiae which clog us down everyday, and bask in the light of those who came before.

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