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The History of Christmas


YOUNGSTERS have been assured by Scottish politician Nicola Sturgeon that Santa is a key worker who will deliver their presents as usual on December 25.

But what is the history behind that red-suited fat cheery figure who breaks into our houses via the chimney every year?

Urban legend has it that the popular image of Father Christmas in a red suit originated with a Coca Cola campaign.

However the colour scheme of his outfit could well hail from the red and white ecclesiastical robes of the original St Nicholas who was Bishop of Myra, Turkey, in the fourth century.

St Nicholas is said to have anonymously delivered bags of gold coins to a man so that he could afford to have his daughters married.

He had to drop the gifts down the chimney as the doors were locked.

Despite the area now being largely Muslim, he is still celebrated in the area.

St Nicholas is thought to have died on December 6 which is why in some countries such as Holland, children receive gifts on that day instead of Christmas day.

He seems to be known all around the world but by different names, Santa or Kris Kringle in the US, Pere Noel in France, Papa Noel in Spain, Weihnachtsmann (Christmas man) in Germany and of course Father Christmas in the UK.

The Green Man whose image is depicted in carvings in many mediaeval churches, has been linked with the English legend of Father Christmas.

The early Christian church incorporated pagan holidays and traditions including the Green Man.

The early Church fixed the date of Christ’s birth close to the Winter Solstice leading to the Green Man becoming the inspiration behind Father Christmas.

Father Christmas began to appear in English literature from around the 15 century.

In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the ghost of Christmas Present, illustrated in the original version by John Leech, was portrayed as a giant with a green robe and his hair a ‘tangled mess of mistletoe and holly’ – the link between the celebratory giving spirit of Christmas and the Green Man.

Americans believe that Father Christmas is based in the North Pole where as British and Europeans tend to believe he lives in Lapland.

Traditionally his sleigh is pulled by eight reindeer – Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder (Donner) and Blitzen.

The first reference to Santa’s sleigh being pulled by reindeer can be found in an 1821 illustrated children’s poem published in New York, ‘Old Santeclaus with Much Delight’.

Rudolph the Red-nosed reindeer was a story first published for an American department store in 1939.

In the popular story, later turned into a song, the deer’s glowing red nose makes him an outcast among his fellow deer until Santa asks him to use it to guide his sleigh.

Rudolph returns home a hero, having saved Christmas by helping Santa.

Due to the different time zones around the world Santa has around 31 hours to deliver all the presents according to mathematicians.

Travelling east to west he would make around 822.6 visits per second travelling 3000 times the speed of sound faster than a space probe and carrying at least 321,300 tons of presents.

However it can be assumed that as a magical being Father Christmas may be able to suspend time itself meaning that he would be able to carry unlimited numbers of presents and carry out as many deliveries as he needs to.


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