History of Father Christmas

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It's the time of traditional Christmas flowers once again! But today, there's a more important centre of Christmas to talk about, the jolly man in the red coat. Father Christmas is known by many names around the globe: Santa Claus, St. Nick, Kris Kringle, or simply just Santa! To some, he is a magical entity, that delivers toys and presents to all the good children of the world on Christmas night, giving coal to all naughty ones. He has seen many different iterations since his inception as a cultural icon. But largely, we know Santa as a jolly, round man with a large ashy beard, and a red and white suit with black boots. That is, at least, the traditional image surrounding the figure as per modern pop culture.

The fact is, Santa and all his pseudonyms and act-a-likes have a vast history, that only recently has begun to be woven together into a singular form. Where did Santa come from? What inspired the concept, and why do we celebrate his arrival every Christmas Eve? Which Xmas flowers are associated with Santa and why are his reindeer so mean to Rudolph? Some or all of these questions have answers.

The Precursors to Santa

The origins of Santa often start with Saint Nicholas, a 4th Century Greek Bishop. Hardly a man with a pack of snow-ridden reindeer, but many popular depictions of him did indeed portray St. Nick with a grey beard and rosy cheeks. Though it's too soon to have Christmas flowers or a Christmas plant associated with him, you can see the early resemblance!

Nicholas was famed for his generous gifts to the poor, in particular, there is a story where he paid the doweries of three young women to prevent them from falling into prostitution. This kindly saint became extremely popular in Northern Europe, where he was so often portrayed with that famous silvery beard.

For many years during the Middle Ages, the 6th of December (Nicolas’ name day) was the feast wherein children were given gifts in honour of Nick. This tradition came under attack after the reformation, where Martin Luther’s Protestant Christianity found it absurd to give the saints so much authority in religious practice. Slowly, the concept of a “Christkinder” or Christ Child, started to take root in German-speaking parts of the world. This Christkind would replace St. Nicolas for some, but for many, especially in the Catholic world, Nicolas remained more popular.

The icon of a person known as St. Nicholas
St. Nicholas in the Eastern Tradition

Father Christmas – The Man before Santa

As the years travelled on, and cultures mixed in Europe, the Dutch concept of “Sinterklaas” became popular. This was a being, based on the original St. Nicolas, but moving away from the traditional origins of the custom. It was not unusual for mixings of cultures to occur in this way. For instance, the Norse God “Odin” is often thought to be the origin of the concept of Sinterklaas, and later Santa.

Odin is depicted in the Norse Sagas as an elderly man, with one eye and a long white beard. This is the form he takes whenever visiting the mortal realm to explore or cause mayhem. When the mythical "Wild Hunt" rides in Norse mythology, it is Odin at the head. He rides his horse Sleipnir, handing out gifts to those respectful enough to avert their eyes from the hunt. Or, punishing those who would chase them. Unlike Santa, Odin isn't typically associated with flowers or Plants. Although there is a story of Odin hanging himself from the Tree of All Knowledge to become wise and powerful - not the perfect Christmas story, though!

It does not take long to see how Germanic peoples may, intentionally or not, start associating gift-giving old men with another. A consequence of Sinterklaas and Odin was the further breaking from his saintly history. Soon, many nations in western Europe started celebrating a figure called “Father Christmas”, called Pere Noel in France.

Odin's Wild Hunt Painting
Odin and the Wild Hunt

The 19th Century and Americanisation

Santa became a phonetic derivation from the Dutch Sinterklaas. With America becoming a hodgepodge of British, Dutch, French, Spanish and German settlers, suddenly Christmas traditions, Xmas Flowers and all things Santa began to collide.

Eventually, the 1800s saw “A visit from St. Nicolas” released. Better known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas”. The poem was a collection of different concepts of a gift giver, as well as some original lore for the character. Because the poem was released anonymously, to begin with, the magic of the poem seemed to become a phenomenon. The poem is the origin of St. Nick being described as chubby and plump, with an elf helper to guide him as well as his famous sleigh and reindeer. These are all inventions of the poem, and not from folklore but have since become so famous, it’s impossible to divide Santa from them.

As “Kris Kringle” became more of an American icon, so did the American Century turn Santa into a commercial export. Images of Santa were conveyed through Haddon Sundblom's depiction of him for the Coca-Cola Company's Christmas advertising in the 1930s.

This was not the first time that Santa had been used in an advertisement. Nor was this the origin of his red and white coat or jolly nature. But it certainly has permeated the modern mind as the quintessential Santa depiction, the original despite not being original at all.

The power that this now wields is impossible to quantify. But suffice it to say, he is an icon of immense reach and significance. Half the Christmas stories made today at least feature a reference to Santa, if not including him in the story itself.

Santa is still used as a common advertisement scheme, shoehorned into adverts and commercials to sell products that wouldn’t be made in a toy shop at the North Pole. Believe it or not, he's even been known to push traditional Christmas flowers online. Even the concept of his elves has seen constant evolution. The elves today are often shown as executives at industrialised factories, or digital retailers working for an ever-expansive company.

It’s easy to see that as our relationships with gifts, presents and Christmas evolves, so will Santa and his strange origins continue to permeate throughout our holidays. Pray that, in 200 years, Robo-Santa is not as popular as human Santa is today!

Santa drinking a coke in a warm setting, behind him a Christmas tree.
Santa in this famous Christmas Advert

The Gift of a Better World

Santa, Kris Kringle, Pere Noel, no matter what he’s called or how he operates, there’s something strangely united in the western world about him. A sense of generosity, good tidings, enjoyment of fun and dance and drink and merriment. A sense of glowing happiness in an otherwise dark time. It’s a feeling that more and more is needed around the world.

So why not take the step to be a little jollier this Christmas? Maybe brighten the room with a Christmas plant that isn't a fir tree? And in doing so, find a way to buy Xmas flowers that won't harm the world. Amaranté has you covered with a new line of Dried Flowers for Christmas.

All stems in our floral arrangements are entirely carbon neutral. Every environmentally friendly choice has been made to ensure they are the best they can be for the world.

This Christmas, give a gift of a happier, brighter world, without the carbon footprint. Flowers need not bring the world a lump of coal.

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