Father Christmas

Father Christmas
Excerpt from Josiah King's The Examination and Tryal of Father Christmas (1686), published shortly after Christmas was reinstated as a holy day in England.

Father Christmas is the name used in many English-speaking countries for a fictional figure associated with Christmas. A similar figure with the same name (in other languages) exists in several other countries, including France (Père Noël), Spain (Papá Noel, Pare Noel), Brazil (Papai Noel), Portugal (Pai Natal), Italy (Babbo Natale), Armenia (Kaghand Papik), India (Christmas Father), Romania (Moş Crăciun) and Turkey (Noel Baba) .

In past centuries, the English Father Christmas was also known as Old Father Christmas, Sir Christmas, and Lord Christmas.[citation needed] Father Christmas is said to wear (these days) a bright red suit, but in Victorian and Tudor times he wore a bright green suit.[citation needed]

Father Christmas typified the spirit of good cheer at Christmas, but was neither a gift bringer nor particularly associated with children.[citation needed] A traditional figure in English folklore, Father Christmas is identified with the old belief in the Old English god Woden.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10]

In the English-speaking world, the character called "Father Christmas" influenced the development in the United States of Santa Claus,[citation needed] and in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, most people now consider them to be interchangeable. However, although "Father Christmas" and "Santa Claus" have for most practical purposes been merged, historically the characters have different origins and are not identical.[citation needed] Some authors such as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien,[citation needed] have insisted on the traditional form of Father Christmas in preference to Santa Claus.

In parts of Europe, Father Christmas/Santa Claus is often said to reside in the mountains of Korvatunturi in Lapland, Finland, or sometimes at the North Pole.[citation needed]



The earliest English examples of the personification of Christmas are apparently those in carols of the 15th century.[citation needed] The manuscript Bodelian Library MS Arch. Selden b. 26, which dates from circa 1458 AD,[11] contains an anonymous Christmas carol (f. 8) which begins with the lyrics:

Goday, goday, my lord Sire Christëmas, goday!

Goday, Sire Christëmas, our king,
for ev'ry man, both old and ying,
is glad and blithe of your coming;

Similarly, a carol attributed to Richard Smert (c. 1400–c. 1479[12]) in British Additional MS 5665 (ff. 8v-9v),[11] begins in dialog form:

Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell

Who is there that singeth so: Nowell, nowell, nowell?
I am here, Sire Christësmas.
Welcome, my lord, Sire Christëmas!
Welcome to us all, both more and less!
Come near, Nowell.

Both songs then proceed to proclaim the birth of Christ in the present tense and elaborate upon the story of the nativity as occasion for rejoicing. The specific depiction of Christmas as a merry old man begins in the early 17th century, in the context of resistance to Puritan criticism of observation of the Christmas feast.[citation needed] He is "old" because of the antiquity of the feast itself, which its defenders saw as a good old Christian custom that should be kept. Allegory was popular at the time, and so "old Christmas" was given a voice to protest his exclusion, along with the form of a rambunctious, jolly old man. The earliest such was that in Ben Jonson's creation in Christmas his Masque[13] dating from December 1616, in which Christmas appears "attir'd in round Hose, long Stockings, a close Doublet, a high crownd Hat with a Broach, a long thin beard, a Truncheon, little Ruffes, white shoes, his Scarffes, and Garters tyed crosse", and announces "Why Gentlemen, doe you know what you doe? ha! would you ha'kept me out? Christmas, old Christmas?" Later, in a masque by Thomas Nabbes, The Springs Glorie produced in 1638, "Christmas" appears as "an old reverend gentleman in furred gown and cap".[citation needed] The character continued to appear over the next 250 years, appearing as Sir Christmas, Lord Christmas, or Father Christmas, the last becoming the most common.[citation needed] A book dating from the time of the Commonwealth, The Vindication of CHRISTMAS or, His Twelve Yeares' Observations upon the Times (London, 1652),[14] involved "Old Christmas" advocating a merry, alcoholic Christmas and casting aspersions on the charitable motives of the ruling Puritans. Father Christmas dates back at least as far as the 17th century in Britain,[citation needed] and pictures of him survive from that era, portraying him as a well-nourished bearded man dressed in a long green fur-lined robe. A writer in "Time's Telescope" (1822) states that in Yorkshire at eight o'clock on Christmas Eve the bells greet "Old Father Christmas" with a merry peal, the children parade the streets with drums, trumpets, bells, (or in their absence, with the poker and shovel, taken from their humble cottage fire), the yule candle is lighted, and; "High on the cheerful fire. Is blazing seen th' enormous Christmas brand."[15] Since the Victorian era,[citation needed] Father Christmas has gradually merged with the pre-modern gift giver St Nicholas (Dutch Sinterklaas, hence Santa Claus) and associated folklore. Nowadays he is often called Santa Claus but also often referred to in Britain as Father Christmas: the two names are synonyms. In Europe, Father Christmas/Santa Claus is often said to reside in the mountains of Korvatunturi in Lapland Province, Finland. Traditionally,[when?] Father Christmas comes down the chimney to put presents under the Christmas tree or in children's rooms, in their stockings. Some families leave a glass of sherry or mulled wine, mince pies, biscuits, or chocolate and a carrot for his reindeer near the stocking(s) as a present for him. In modern homes without chimneys he uses alternative 21st century electronic devices to enter the home. In some homes children write Christmas lists (of wished-for presents) and send them up the chimney or post them.


"Father Christmas" is often synonymous with Santa Claus.

Father Christmas often appears as a large man, often around 70 years old. He is dressed in a red or green snowsuit trimmed with white fur, often girdled with a wide black belt (in the case of Santa Claus variations), a matching hat, often long and floppy in nature (also in the case of Santa Claus variations), and dark hobnail-style jackboots. Often he carries a large brown sack filled with toys on his back (rarely, images of him have a beard but with no moustache). Urban myth [16] has it that the red suit only appeared after the Coca Cola company started an advertising campaign depicting a red suited Father Christmas in the 1930s. However, the company themselves admit that the red suit had appeared before they used the image themselves. In reality, the red-suited Santa was created by Thomas Nast.[citation needed]

In fiction

Father Christmas appears in many English-language works of fiction, including Robin Jones Gunn's Father Christmas Series (2007), Catherine Spencer's A Christmas to Remember (2007), Debbie Macomber's There's Something About Christmas (2005), Richard Paul Evans's The Gift (2007), C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe‎ (1950), Raymond Briggs's Father Christmas (1973) and the translation from French of Jean de Brunhoff's Babar and Father Christmas (originally Babar et le père Noël, 1941). J.R.R. Tolkien's The Father Christmas Letters are letters he wrote addressed to his children from Father Christmas.

The J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia compares Tolkien's Father Christmas with L. Frank Baum's Santa Claus, as he appears in The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus:

Santa Claus's friends raise an army to save him from monsters called Awgwas. Tolkien's goblins somewhat resemble the Awgwas, who also steal presents. But Baum's Santa does not fight like Tolkien's Father Christmas does.[17]

C.S. Lewis, a children's author and Christian, preferred the traditional Father Christmas because of his clear connection with the Christian holiday of Christmas.[citation needed]

In music

  • In 1976 The Kinks recorded the song "Father Christmas".

See also


  1. ^ "All about Father Christmas". HappyChristmas.org.uk. http://www.happychristmas.org.uk/santa/father-christmas.htm. Retrieved 2011-04-01. 
  2. ^ "Customs from England". The Christmas Archives. http://www.christmasarchives.com/england.html. Retrieved 2011-04-01. 
  3. ^ http://www.familiesonline.co.uk/article/static/252/[dead link]
  4. ^ McKnight, George Harley (1917). St. Nicholas - His Legend and His Role in the Christmas Celebration. G. P. Putnam's Sons. http://books.google.com/books?id=S4MtGxqMEpEC&dq. Retrieved 2011-04-01. 
  5. ^ Waverly Fitzgerald (2001). "December 6, St Nicholas’ Day". SchooloftheSeasons.com. http://www.schooloftheseasons.com/stnick.html. Retrieved 2011-04-01. 
  6. ^ Whistler, Laurence (1947). The English Festivals. W. Heinemann. p. 241. 
  7. ^ Muir, Frank (1977). Christmas Customs & Traditions. Taplinger Pub. Co.. ISBN 0800815521. 
  8. ^ Hole, Christina (1950). English Custom & Usage. Batsford. 
  9. ^ Eason, Cassandra (1997). The Mammoth Book of Ancient Wisdom. Robinson. ISBN 1854875175. 
  10. ^ Mercatante, Anthony S. (1978). Good and Evil: Mythology and Folklore. Harper & Row, University of Virginia. 
  11. ^ a b Stevens, John. 'Musica Britannica: Medieval Carols'. Stainer and Bell LTD, 1970.
  12. ^ "Richard Smert". HOASM. http://www.hoasm.org/IVM/Smert.html. Retrieved 2011-04-01. 
  13. ^ Christmas, His Masque - Ben Jonson
  14. ^ "A Christmassy post | Mercurius Politicus". Mercuriuspoliticus.wordpress.com. 2008-12-21. http://mercuriuspoliticus.wordpress.com/2008/12/21/a-christmassy-post/. Retrieved 2011-04-01. 
  15. ^ Dawson, William Francis (2007). The Project Gutenberg eBook, Christmas: Its Origin and Associations Project Gutenburg
  16. ^ "BBC - Father Christmas, green or red?". BBC News. 4 December 2009. http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/york/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_8394000/8394067.stm. Retrieved 2011-04-01. 
  17. ^ Kapelle, Rachel (2007). "Father Christmas Letters". In Michael D.C. Drout. J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia. CRC Press. pp. 199–200. ISBN 0415969425. 

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Father Christmas — n [singular] BrE an imaginary man who wears red clothes, has a long white beard, and is said to bring presents to children at Christmas = ↑Santa Claus …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • Father Christmas — BRITISH an imaginary old man with a long white BEARD and red clothes who brings children their Christmas presents: SANTA CLAUS …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • Father Christmas — ► NOUN ▪ an imaginary being said to bring presents for children on the night before Christmas Day …   English terms dictionary

  • Father Christmas — Brit. name for SANTA CLAUS …   English World dictionary

  • Father Christmas —    The earliest evidence for a personified Christmas is a carol attributed to Richard Smart, Rector of Plymtree (Devon) from 1435 to 1477 (Dearmer and Williams, Oxford Book of Carols (1928), no. 21, 41 3); it is a sung dialogue between someone… …   A Dictionary of English folklore

  • Father Christmas — noun the legendary patron saint of children; an imaginary being who is thought to bring presents to children at Christmas • Syn: ↑Santa Claus, ↑Santa, ↑Kriss Kringle, ↑Saint Nicholas, ↑Saint Nick, ↑St. Nick • Instance Hypernyms: ↑ …   Useful english dictionary

  • Father Christmas — {n.}, {British} The joyful spirit of Christmas; Santa Claus. * /English children look forward to the visit of Father Christmas./ …   Dictionary of American idioms

  • Father Christmas — {n.}, {British} The joyful spirit of Christmas; Santa Claus. * /English children look forward to the visit of Father Christmas./ …   Dictionary of American idioms

  • Father\ Christmas — noun British the joyful spirit of Christmas; Santa Claus. English children look forward to the visit of Father Christmas …   Словарь американских идиом

  • Father Christmas — N PROPER Father Christmas is the name given to an imaginary old man with a long white beard and a red coat. Traditionally, young children in many countries are told that he brings their Christmas presents. [BRIT] Syn: Santa Claus (in AM, use… …   English dictionary

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