This festive season there have been many claims that our traditional Christmas is under threat. One story even said that teachers are being told by the British government to protect children from ‘Scary Santas’
In truth, the article about ‘scary santa’ which provoked the outcry was only advising teachers on what to do if some children were particularly bewildered or anxious about Christmas outings, changes in routine or meeting a strange old man with a beard – allcompletely reasonable reactions if you think about it logically.
Infact, as many parents already know, a lot of very young children are scared of Father Christmas – and why not? To ask a small child to go up to and sit on the knee of a strange old man is not something we would even consider at any other time of the year.
Nevertheless, Father Christmas or Santa Claus has become the human face of the festive season. The image of an old man with long white beard, red coat, and sack of toys is everywhere.
He is seen as a jolly, friendly soul who lives in the North Pole making toys and then, with the help of flying reindeer, a large sleigh and a lot of magic, he brings presents to all children on the night before Christmas (or in some countries on St Nicholas Day – 6th December)
Most children up to the about 8 years old really believe this is true, and it does bring a magical side to the stress and increasing commercialism of the whole season.
The idea of bringing gifts at Christmas time can be traced back to the nativity story and indeed before, with the Roman celebration of Saturnalia.
Father Christmas himself was originally part of an old English midwinter festival, and he was then dressed in green, a sign of the returning spring. The man we dipict today is also based on Santa Claus who became known in England during the 1870’s. His name comes from the Dutch name for St. Nicholas which is Sinter Klaas.
St. Nicholas was a 4th Century Christian saint from the area of Myra (modern day Turkey). He was a very shy man and wanted to give money to poor people without them knowing about it. One day he climbed onto the roof of a house and dropped a purse of money down the chimney, apparently it landed in a stocking which had been 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.
Alongside the stories of St Nicholas, we get a lot of today’s Father Christmas traditions from American ideas from the 19th Century. One particular poem, written by Clement Clarke Moore in 1822, describes more or less exactly what most people image to be Father Christmas.
The poem is often called ‘The Night Before Christmas’, but it was originally 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 pedlar 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. “
This all shows that the tradition of Father Christmas is a strong and historic one which had adapted to suit different people and times throughout recent centuries.
So, as long as we remember to treat our children with respect and act accordingly if they are scared, then I am sure that Father Christmas will become become a much loved figure who will enchant them for many years to come.