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Father Christmas or Santa Claus

Would you like to know how this mythical white-beard gift-giver figure, who rides around in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, entered popular imagination? Then let me tell you his wonderful story.

The figure of Father Christmas or Santa Claus started with a real person: Saint Nicholas of Myre. According to tradition, Saint Nicholas was born between 250 and 270 AD in the ancient Lycian town of Patara that is now part of Turkey. He was the only son of a wealthy family, and when his parents died of the plague, Nicholas was still very young.

He grew up in a monastery and became a priest at the age of 17. He did not like the crowds and preferred instead the quietness of the church. When still young he went on a pilgrimage to Egypt and Palestine; on the way home he knew about the death of his uncle, the bishop of Myre; he then went to the church and was chosen to be the successor of his uncle. According to legend, the bishops in charge of electing the new bishop had heard a voice advising them to choose the first person to enter the church whose name was Nicholas. And this is how he became bishop of Myre.

Saint Nicholas was very kind and generous to everybody, either poor or rich. But he loved children above all, and it is his love for them that became the source of his legendary life.

Saint Nicholas lived very old but as any other man he had once to leave this world and go to heaven. This happened on December 6, 343.

After his death he was elevated to sainthood, and the date of December 6 became a day for distributing presents in certain northern European countries. And Saint Nicholas entered our imagination with the features of Father Christmas (or Santa Claus), thanks to his great love for children.

As a bishop, Saint Nicholas wore the traditional bishop's hat and red and white suit. That's why Santa (or Father Christmas) is also dressed in red and white and a long hat covers his head. As Saint Nicholas was very old, he had a long white beard and a bright walking stick when travelling. Santa is also a white-beard old man with a golden walking stick. Saint Nicholas travelled on the back of an ass; Santa rides a sleigh pulled by reindeer.

Saint Nicholas's life gave rise to many legends, most of them with historical fundament, contrarily to what is sometimes generally believed. Whatever the truth nevertheless may be, these legends all took inspiration from the saint's reputation for kindness and generosity.

But no matter if we call him Father Christmas, Tomten, Joulupukki or Santa, or that he simply embodies a white-beard grandfather, he is always and traditionally a gift-giver to children and why not? - also to grownups. Santa (or Father Christmas) belongs to the sweet dreams of our childhood, to the fairy tales that persist throughout generations...

Now, to learn what happened that year when Tomten came down with the flu, you might like to read the story FATHER CHRISTMAS HAS THE FLU, written by my dear "boss". You'll for sure love it.

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    All Texts and Illustrations © Dulce Rodrigues, 2017. All rights reserved