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Page last updated at 09:40 GMT, Friday, 4 December 2009
Father Christmas, green or red?

'Green' Father Christmas in Dalby Forest

Close your eyes and think of Father Christmas. What do you see? A jolly, fat man, with rosy red cheeks, a fluffy white beard and a red suit? Well close your eyes again and try and imagine him with a green suit rather than red...

Difficult maybe, but that is how the British Father Christmas should be dressed. In the 1930s a certain American soft drinks company decided Santa should be dressed in red as part of a marketing campaign and that has stuck.

Father Christmas
An American soft drinks company decided Santa should be dressed in red

It's often thought that Father Christmas and Santa Claus are one and the same person. This may be so now, but it's thought he was once two (or more) different people.

We've all heard of St Nicholas who was the Bishop of Myra in Turkey in the 3rd Century. He travelled in his red robes giving gifts to the poor, in particular children. Apparently he was very shy and wanting to give money to a family secretly he dropped coins down the chimney, where they landed in a stocking.

St Nicholas 'arrived' in Britain along with the Normans and his story was quickly absorbed into the legend of our 'Father Christmas' who had been around for much longer.

There are many stories and legends about pagan winter festivals which include a 'Father Christmas' type figure, all of which have become part of the modern version.

It's likely he 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.

In the fifth and sixth centuries he became King Winter, King Frost or Father Time. Someone would dress up as King Winter and was welcomed into homes, where he would sit near the fire and be given something to eat and drink. By being kind to King Winter, people thought they would receive something good in return such as a mild winter.

When the Vikings invaded Britain, their traditions came with them. At the end of December the Norse God Odin took on the character of Jul. He visited earth and sporting a white beard and wearing a long blue hooded cloak rode through the world on his eight legged horse giving gifts to the good and punishments to the bad. Father Christmas, like Odin, appears to travel as if by magic and be in lots of places in a short space of time.

So, several become one. All the legends and stories merge together, and we have that wonderful, magical character we welcome into our homes every Christmas!


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