Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Face of Christmas Past

Unlike our modern Santa Claus, Anthony McRoy in his recent article at notes that Father Christmas was traditionally a personification of the holiday who emphasized generosity to others, thanksgiving to God, and celebration of the Savior.

From his introduction:
While the modern "Santa Claus" is essentially American, one U.S. tradition never took off in Britain—designating him "Kriss Kringle." Instead, Britons call him "Father Christmas." Father Christmas did not merge with Santa until around the 1870s. He was not a jolly, rotund elf, nor was he associated with presents or even children. People viewed him not as actually existing (like St. Nicholas) but rather as the personification of the season (like "Father Time"). That did not spare him the wrath of the Puritans.
In his article he covers:
"Santa" in a doublet and garters?
The earliest reference to a personified Christmas figure was the 15th-century carol "I Am Here, Sir Christëmas" (accessible at
Christmas on trial

In 1645, during the Civil War, most of England was under Puritan rule. The Puritans vehemently opposed anything that was "heathenish" or smacked of "Popery." They banned the celebration of Christmas on these grounds (although the charges are questionable). Indeed, the Puritan-dominated Parliament delighted in sitting on Christmas Day. Parliamentary troops picketed churches on Christmas to prevent anyone from commemorating it as a religious day. They also objected to the frequently drunken and anti-social revelry sometimes accompanying its celebration (much like New Year's Day in our time).

Gratitude, not greed

In 1652, attacking Puritan opposition, Taylor issued Christmas in & out, or, Our Lord & Saviour Christ's birth-day. "Father Christmas" resists accusations of "Popery" by revealing his true name: Christ sent or Christ's Day. "Christmas" insists his day "is kept in a thankfull remembrance" of Christ's "blessed incarnation," and that Christ "is the Prince of Peace, and his peace you will never have that do unthankfully dispise & neglect to solemnize the day of his most blessed Nativity."

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