Father Christmas

The person we know today as Santa Claus developed over the centuries from several different sources, including early Christianity and 19th-century cartoons.

St. Nicholas was a bishop of Myra, in Turkey, in the 4th century who amongst his many miracles was believed to have helped many poor people by climbing onto their roof and dropping money down the chimneys of their homes (or throwing the money through open windows, the legend is a little vague), while the tradition of hanging stockings supposedly began with a poor family whose stockings were hanging to dry by the fire. St Nicholas donated some money to the family by dropping coins into the stockings. Some children believe that if they are badly behaved, Santa will leave coal in their stockings instead of presents.

Another legend stated that in St Nicholas' town lived a man who was very poor and who had three daughters. Now when it came to marrying them off he didn't have a dowry for them. It is claimed that St. Nicholas put a bag of money of the daughter who was getting married onto her window. He did the same for the other daughters as well. The father only found out at the last daughters wedding where the dowry had come from, but Nicholas swore him to secrecy.

On the 6th December 343 A.D. St. Nicholas died. St. Nicholas day is celebrated on the 6th December. St Nicholas was also considered the protector of children and as a miracle worker who helped everybody not only in his own community, but all over the world. He was so known for being generous to poor children that many people across Europe began giving children gifts in his memory. In Holland, he became known as Sint Klaus, and with emigration to America, this was anglicised to Santa Claus.

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The History of Christmas in England

We have celebrated Christmas (the Mass of Christ) in England for almost a two thousand years; In the early days of the Christian church, many of its festivals were aligned with existing pagan celebrations. Several Roman festivals, including that celebrating the rebirth of the sun, took place on 25 December. Christians wanted to emphasise God's son over the astronomical sun, so that date was selected in the mid-fourth century as the official birthdate of their saviour.

In the 9th century King Alfred of England increased the number of days celebrated from 8 days to 12 days when the dates of Christmas was considered to be from the 25th December to the 6th January, which was the twelfth day. This stayed like this until the 17th century when Oliver Cromwell abolished Christmas altogether. The holiday was restored after Cromwell's death and has remained a popular public holiday ever since.

St. Francis of Assisi is believed to have performed the first nativity in Italy in 1223. At this time the people couldn't read, so the Christmas story was told by St Francis with the help of his people from his village and performed the story to show what had happened when Jesus was born.

The legend of flying reindeers may have its origin in the fact that fly agaric mushrooms contaisn an LSD-like compound. Shamans in Lapland used to feed the mushroom to reindeer and drink their urine as a religious ritual, causing themselves to hallucinate. They then saw their reindeer 'fly'.

The Christmas tree was introduced into the country in the 19th century when Prince Albert brought one in from Germany. The tradition became widespread after a picture was taken with the then Queen Victoria and their children holding hands and dancing around the tree.

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Known for many years as Father Christmas in the UK, he is now more commonly called Santa Claus as US culture became more common. Father Christmas was traditionally believed to wear a green and white costume, however his current look is largely the result of cartoons from the late 19th century, most of which were created by illustrator Thomas Nast. In the 1930's a Cola commercial depicted him as a jolly fat man wearing a red and white costume and the concept stuck.

Halifax Christmas's Gone By

In the year 1612 a Mr Richard Summerscales gave his house and land to trustees in which they had to distribute the yearly produce on Christmas Day or Boxing Day to the poor of Ovenden year after year. Also a Mr Isaac Boocock also left in is will the same as Mr Richard Summerscales to give to the poor people of Ovenden in the year 1669.

Christmas Cards

A man named John Calcott Horsley, who decided to send the first one to his friend Sir Henry Cole in 1843, invented Christmas cards. Christmas cards have been sent ever since. The cards could be of the scene of Jesus Christ, or could really be of anything to do with the season and jokes cards are also used as well.

Christmas at War

With the outbreak of the First World War many thought that the war would end by Christmas, but it didn't. However on the first Christmas Day of the war the guns stopped and there was a brief truce for a few days where both sides exchanged gifts and played a game of football. In the Second World War their said it would be over by Christmas 1939, but again it wasn't. The first Christmas of the Second World War people couldn't put Christmas lights on their trees in the windows and also in the shops because of the bombing. Most of the children that lived in cities were sent to live in the country to keep that save. There was no get together from families like they would normally do at Christmas, because most of the men were in France fighting the war. In 1940 at Christmas there was rationing of food, because it was coming from France, which was used up quiet quickly. Christmas of 1945 after the war ended was a better time, but still there was a serious rationing of food for many years.

What happens on Christmas Eve?

Father Christmas puts all the children's toys in his sleigh and rides through the sky pulled by his reindeers. Probably the most famous reindeer is Rudolph with his red shining nose leading in front. Some families might also go to a church on Christmas Eve to sing carols depending on their religion. It was also the traditional time for children to hang their stockings (large socks) by the chimney and to put out food and drink for Santa (and sometimes carrots for the reindeer).

The names of Father Christmas's Reindeers was first mentioned in a song written as a gift for his daughter by Robert May.

That song is 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer'

You know Dasher and Dancer,
and Prancer and Vixen,
Comet and Cupid,
and Donner and Blitzen,
But do you recall
The most famous reindeer of all?

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Had a very shiny nose,
And if you ever saw it,
You could even say it glows.
All of the other reindeer
Used to laugh and call him names;
They never let poor Rudolph
Join in any reindeer games.

Then one foggy Christmas Eve,
Santa came to say:
"Rudolph with your nose so bright,
    Won't you guide my sleigh tonight?"    
Then how the reindeer loved him
As they shouted out with glee,
"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,
You'll go down in history.

What happens on Christmas Day?

On Christmas Day morning the children wake up usually very early and rush downstairs to the Christmas tree where they hope to find presents for all the family. They also hope to find their presents from Santa and their stockings filled with sweets and small toys. Some people will go to church on Christmas day morning to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ while others will stay at home and watch the traditional Christmas Day message from the Queen.

Christmas Dinner

A Christmas dinner would usually consist of a large three or more course meal, complete with potatoes, vegetables and sauces. It's traditional to pull Christmas crackers after the meal.

A Vegetarian Christmas Dinner

See here and here for some examples of vegetarian alternatives.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

The song of the twelve days of Christmas has a teaching theme for young Catholics to help them with they religious studies.

The "true love" - refers to God .
The partridge -
was Jesus Christ.
Two Turtle Doves - were the Old and New Testament s.
Three French Hens were for Faith, Hope and love.
The four Calling Birds - the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
The five Golden Rings - the first five books of the Old Testament .
The six Geese A-laying - the six days of creation .
Seven Swans A-swimming - the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: Prophecy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership and Mercy .
The eight Maids A-milking - the eight beatitudes.
Nine Ladies Dancing
- the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self Control .
The ten Lords A-leaping - the ten commandments.
The eleven Pipers Piping - the eleven faithful disciples .
The twelve Drummers Drumming The Apostles.

Christmas Bird

Britain has the Robin as a Christmas symbol, because of the colour red, which came from the postmen who were delivering the mail were called robins, because of the red tunics that they wore.

Sending letters to Santa

Sending letters to Santa you could use e-mail address, which you can find on these following websites: -

Christmas around the World

Compiled by Joan Jarvis 2005