Father Christmas was most likely an original evolution of a pagan figure who represented the coming of spring and wore a long green hooded cloak and a wreath of holly, ivy or mistletoe and had the ability to make people happier during the long winter months. Another origin story comes in the version of Jul, a form of the Viking god Odin, who sported a white beard and wore a long hooded cloak, and rode through the world on his eight legged horse giving gifts to the good and punishments to the bad.
Nowell, Nowell, Nowell, Nowell,Sir Christmas then gives news of Christ’s birth, and urges his hearers to drink:
’Who is there that singeth so?’
’I am here, Sir Christëmas.’
’Welcome, my lord Christëmas,
Welcome to us all, both more and less
Come near, Nowell!’
“Buvez bien par toute la campagnie,
Make good cheer and be right merry.”
Thus, Father or Lord Christmas was well known in both Medieval and Tudor England. Lord Christmas from this time period is depicted wearing a long green robe trimmed in fur (most likely taking from the original pagan figure). Eventually, this evolved to the red and white suit we know so well today. Though he was present, Lord Christmas wasn't central to Tudor Christmas celebrations. It wasn't until Stuart and Victorian England that Father Christmas became a more central character in these festivities. Rather, records indicate that a parish would hire someone to dress in disguise and visit Parishioners and report back to the Parish priest on their well-being. It is unknown if this man served as a representation of St. Nicholas, and whether he gave the children of Parishioners gifts or not, as representations did in Germany.
"... 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 his Drum beaten before him."Because Father Christmas was not relegated by the Church and not considered a religious symbol, the secular world was able to do what they wanted with him. This began the real secular evolution of Father Christmas to the more recognizable version we know today.
With the coming of the English Civil War and the Commonwealth, Cromwell's Long Parliament banned all Christmas celebrations in 1645. In response, a broadsheet appeared on the streets of London taunting the Government, featuring a humorous political 'scandal' about the conviction and imprisonment and later escape of Father Christmas, saying "In comes I, Old Father Christmas, Be I welcome or be I not, I hope that Christmas will ne'er be forgot." During the celebratory ban, "Old Father Christmas" came to represent a nostalgic Christmas of days gone by, such as those celebrated by the Tudors. The Puritans were unable to stop all celebrations, despite the new laws, but were able to disrupt many traditions. John Evelyn wrote in his diary on 25 December 1652, "Christmas Day, no sermon anywhere, no church being permitted to open, so observed it at home." After the Restoration, Christmas and Father Christmas were again celebrated in England.
- The History of Santa Claus and Father Christmas. URL.
- Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore (2001).
- Austin, Charlotte. 'The Celebration Of Christmastide In England From the Civil Wars to its Victorian Transformation.' URL.
- Josiah King. The Examination and Tryal of Father Christmas (1686) in which Father Christmas was exonerated. URL.
- The Reformation and Father Christmas. URL.
- The Christmas Archives - England. URL.