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Project Britain

British Christmas Traditions
by Mandy Barrow

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Father Christmas

Woodlands Junior School is in the south-east corner of England

Who is Father Christmas?

Father Christmas is our version of Santa Claus. He is an old jolly man with white hair, a beard and a moustache. He is dressed in a red* suit outlined in white. Father Christmas and his elves make all the toys for Christmas in his home in the North Pole. © copyright of

*The red coat is 'new'. Images of Father Christmas prior to about 1880 most pictures showed him with a green coat. The red became the most popular colour after the US introduction by Coca Cola during the 1930s.


How do we know what Father Christmas looks like?

We owe much about what we know about the Father Christmas today to the Americans of the 19th Century. In 1822, Clement Clarke Moore described what he imagined Father Christmas to look like in a poem.

The poem is often referred to as 'The Night Before Christmas', but originally it was 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 peddler 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.

Written by Clement C. Moore in 1822 as a Christmas present to his children.

In 1866, Thomas Nast, a cartoon artist for the Harper's Illustrated Weekly, made a montage entitled, "Santa Claus His Works" and for the first time established 'Santa' as a maker of toys

George P. Webster (Walker) made five of Nast's drawings into coloured pictures (lithographs) to illustrate a poem he wrote in Nast's book Santa Claus and His Works (circa 1869). Santa is portrayed as an overly fat, happy, white bearded elf, wearing a spotted red-brown, skin-tight suit, the base of the jacket trimmed in white fur lined with spots or attachments just below a red sash. The poem identified the North Pole as Santa's home.


History of Father Christmas in England

The Ghost of Christmas PresentFather Christmas was originally part of an old English midwinter festival, normally dressed in green, a sign of the returning spring. He was known as 'Sir Christmas', 'Old Father Christmas' or Old Winter'. © copyright of

In this earliest form, Father Christmas was not the bringer of gifts for small children, nor did he come down the chimney. He simply wandered around from home to home, knocking on doors and feasting with families before moving on to the next house. © copyright of

The Ghost of Christmas Present in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol (1843) is based on Father Christmas. He is described as a large man with a red beard and fur-lined green robe.

Images of Father Christmas (Santa Claus) dressed in red started appearing on Christmas cards in the late Victorian times (see evidence).


Children visit Father Christmas in shops

In shops or at children's parties, someone dresses up as Father Christmas and gives small presents to children and ask them what gifts they want for Christmas. © copyright of


How do children write to Father Christmas?

Children write letters to Father Christmas to tell him what they would like for Christmas. Some children will send their letters by post or e-mail but the more traditional way is to throw the letters into the back of the fireplace. The draught then carries the letters up the chimney to Father Christmas. © copyright of


What happens on Christmas Eve?

On Christmas eve Father Christmas piles all of the toys onto his sleigh and rides across the sky with his reindeers. The most famous one is Rudolf, the reindeer at the front who leads the way with his red nose. © copyright of

He enters our houses down the chimney at midnight and places presents for the children in stockings (large socks) or bags by their beds or in front of the family Christmas tree.


Who is Santa Claus?

Santa Claus is based on a real person, St. Nicholas.

St. Nicholas, or Sinter Klaas in Dutch, was a very shy man and wanted to give money to poor people without them knowing about it. It is said that one day, he climbed the roof of a house and dropped a purse of money down the chimney. It landed in the stocking which a girl had 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. © copyright of

When the Dutch introduced Sinter Klaas to the Americans they called him Santa Claus.


What are the different names of Father Christmas/ Santa Claus?

Father Christmas is called different names around the world. The most popular name now-a-days is Santa Claus.

Austria: Christkind ("Christ child")

Belgium: Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) and De Kerstman ("Father Christmas")

Canada: Santa Claus; Père Noël ("Father Christmas")

Denmark: Julemanden

Estonia: Jõuluvana

Finland: Joulupukki

France: Père Noël ("Father Christmas");

Germany: Weihnachtsmann ("Christmas Man"); Christkind in southern Germany

Hungary: Mikulás ("Nicholas"); Jézuska or Kis Jézus ("child Jesus")

Italy: Babbo Natale ("Father Christmas"); La Befana

Netherlands & Flanders: Sinterklaas

Norway: Julenissen

Poland: Swiety Mikolaj

Portugal: Pai Natal ("Father Christmas")

Russia: Ded Moroz, "Grandfather Frost

Spain: Papa Noel

Sweden: Jultomten

Switzerland: Samichlaus

United Kingdom: Father Christmas; Santa Claus

United States: Santa Claus

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Mandy is the creator of the Woodlands Resources section of the Woodlands Junior website. 
The two websites and are the new homes for the Woodlands Resources.

Mandy left Woodlands in 2003 to work in Kent schools as an ICT Consulatant. 
She now teaches computers at The Granville School and St. John's Primary School in Sevenoaks Kent.