Father Christmas is our version of Santa Claus. He is an old jolly man with white hair, a beard and a moustache. He is dressed in a red* suit outlined in white. Father Christmas and his elves make all the toys for Christmas in his home in the North Pole. © copyright of projectbritain.com
*The red coat is 'new'. Images of Father Christmas prior to about 1880 most pictures showed him with a green coat. The red became the most popular colour after the US introduction by Coca Cola during the 1930s.
We owe much about what we know about the Father Christmas today to the Americans of the 19th Century. In 1822, Clement Clarke Moore described what he imagined Father Christmas to look like in a poem.
The poem is often referred to as 'The Night Before Christmas', but originally it was titled 'A Visit from St Nicholas'.
He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his sack.
His eyes how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow.
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump,--a right jolly old elf--
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.
Written by Clement C. Moore in 1822 as a Christmas present to his children.
In 1866, Thomas Nast, a cartoon artist for the Harper's Illustrated Weekly, made a montage entitled, "Santa Claus His Works" and for the first time established 'Santa' as a maker of toys
George P. Webster (Walker) made five of Nast's drawings into coloured pictures (lithographs) to illustrate a poem he wrote in Nast's book Santa Claus and His Works (circa 1869). Santa is portrayed as an overly fat, happy, white bearded elf, wearing a spotted red-brown, skin-tight suit, the base of the jacket trimmed in white fur lined with spots or attachments just below a red sash.
The poem identified the North Pole as Santa's home.
Father Christmas was originally part of an old English midwinter festival, normally dressed in green, a sign of the returning spring. He was known as 'Sir Christmas', 'Old Father Christmas' or Old Winter'. © copyright of projectbritain.com
In this earliest form, Father Christmas was not the bringer of gifts for small children, nor did he come down the chimney. He simply wandered around from home to home, knocking on doors and feasting with families before moving on to the next house. © copyright of projectbritain.com
The Ghost of Christmas Present in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol (1843) is based on Father Christmas.
He is described as a large man with a red beard and fur-lined green robe.
Images of Father Christmas (Santa Claus) dressed in red started appearing on Christmas cards in the late Victorian times (see evidence).
In shops or at children's parties, someone dresses up as Father Christmas and gives small presents to children and ask them what gifts they want for Christmas. © copyright of projectbritain.com
Children write letters to Father Christmas to tell him what they would like for Christmas. Some children will send their letters by post or e-mail but the more traditional way is to throw the letters into the back of the fireplace. The draught then carries the letters up the chimney to Father Christmas. © copyright of projectbritain.com
On Christmas eve Father Christmas piles all of the toys onto his sleigh and rides across the sky with his reindeers. The most famous one is Rudolf, the reindeer at the front who leads the way with his red nose. © copyright of projectbritain.com
He enters our houses down the chimney at midnight and places presents for the children in stockings (large socks) or bags by their beds or in front of the family Christmas tree.
Santa Claus is based on a real person, St. Nicholas.
St. Nicholas, or Sinter Klaas in Dutch, was a very shy man and wanted to give money to poor people without them knowing about it. It is said that one day, he climbed the roof of a house and dropped a purse of money down the chimney. It landed in the stocking which a girl had put to dry by the fire! This may explain the belief that Father Christmas comes down the chimney and places gifts in children's stockings. © copyright of projectbritain.com
When the Dutch introduced Sinter Klaas to the Americans they called him Santa Claus.
Father Christmas is called different names around the world. The most popular name now-a-days is Santa Claus.
Austria: Christkind ("Christ child")
Belgium: Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) and De Kerstman ("Father Christmas")
Canada: Santa Claus; Père Noël ("Father Christmas")
France: Père Noël ("Father Christmas");
Germany: Weihnachtsmann ("Christmas Man"); Christkind in southern Germany
Hungary: Mikulás ("Nicholas"); Jézuska or Kis Jézus ("child Jesus")
Italy: Babbo Natale ("Father Christmas"); La Befana
Netherlands & Flanders: Sinterklaas
Poland: Swiety Mikolaj
Portugal: Pai Natal ("Father Christmas")
Russia: Ded Moroz, "Grandfather Frost
Spain: Papa Noel
United Kingdom: Father Christmas; Santa Claus
United States: Santa Claus
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