Monday, 24 December 2012

Father Christmas - pre-Victorian

Father Christmas - pre-Victorian

Those who have children in their families have probably experienced them bouncing about like excited puppy dogs on Christmas Eve. And more than likely they have yawned while despairing of the children going to sleep because they want to see Father Christmas.

In the early 17th century when the Puritan Government frowned on or banned merrymaking at Christmastime, Christmas was depicted as a merry old man who brought good cheer. The name, Father Christmas is now used in English-speaking countries, but elsewhere his is known by other names such as Pere Noel in France, Babbo Natale in Armenia and Noel Baba in Turkey.

In a masque devised by Ben Johnson, which dates from December 1616, Christmas says: "Why Gentlemen, doe you know what you doe? ha! would you ha'kept me out? Christmas, old Christmas?" Twenty-two years later in a masque by Thomas Nabbes Christmas made his entrance as an old gentleman wearing a furred gown and cap. Between then and 1686, when Josiah King wrote a pamphlet introducing Father Christmas, a representation of pre-Commonwealth traditions, other works were published for and against Christmas. King’s Father Christmas encouraged feasting, making merry and abundant hospitality.

For two hundred and fifty years Sir Christmas, Lord Christmas or Father Christmas continued to be a part of the seasonal festivities. In Yorkshire on Christmas Eve children marched in the streets playing music.

In Queen Victoria’s reign the image of Father Christmas merged with St Nicholas, known as Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) in Holland.

Tonight, (Christmas Eve) I shall stay at my daughter’s house. The children have sent their requests for presents to Father Christmas, who they believe lives at the North Pole, their stockings will be hung up at the ends of their beds and the presents piled under the Christmas tree. I am privileged to share their joy, the same joy I once experienced when my parents created a magical Christmas for me.

P.S. The Coca Cola company was not the first to depict Father Christmas as a large, jolly old man, dressed in red.