I'll just get this bit out the way - we sell Father Christmas wall stickers. They sell pretty well because of the enduring appeal of the big man in red - you can see them here: https://www.stickers4walls.co.uk/product/santa and they are currently half price!
We were chatting about them in the office this week and it started a discussion about whether we call him Santa or Father Christmas, and from there I decided to investigate his origins. So what do you call him? Father Christmas, Santa, Saint Nick, or even Kris Kringle?
As we live in the UK, I have always called him Father Christmas, but over the course of my lifetime (not disclosing my age!) I've noticed more and more that he is mostly called Santa these days. So what's the story?
Saint Nicholas: One of the oldest versions of the legend, Saint Nicholas of Myra was a bishop in what is now part of Turkey. He was famous for his generous gifts to the poor. He was a devout Christian from an early age, and is usually portrayed with a beard and wearing canonical robes. He was buried in Italy, and became the patron saint of sailors and archers as well as many more from children to pawnbrokers! In the middle ages, on the evening before his name day (6th December) children were given gifts in his honour. In the reformation, there was opposition to the veneration of saints - so this tradition moved to focus the interest of children to Christ instead of saints.
Father Christmas: The traditional English name for the personification of Christmas. He was originally part of English folklore, first recorded in the 17th Century and related to feasting and good cheer - he wasn't really connected to children or giving presents. This traditional Father Christmas figure nearly vanished in the late 17th Century, only kept 'alive' by plays, but reappeared when the Victorians started to make Christmas into more of a child friendly celebration. It was then that he became linked to giving gifts. in the 1850s, the legend of Santa Claus arrived in England from America, and Father Christmas started to take on the traits that we now associate with Santa - coming down the chimney, the long red gown and white fur trim.
Sinterklaas: In Belgium and the Netherlands, Sinterklaas remains as the main giver of gifts in December. Based on Saint Nicholas, the 6th of December remains the main day to give gifts to children specifically. Then on Christmas Day itself, all ages may receive gifts.
Santa: Santa Claus as we know him now seems to have grown out of an amalgamation of lots of these old traditional figures. He appears to be based on Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas and Sinterklaas too - and possibly even the German god Wodan who was linked to the midwinter pagan event of Yule. Wodan led a ghostly procession, the Wild Hunt, through the sky (sound familiar?). The figure of Santa has morphed and developed over the last 150 years, through books, songs and even influenced by advertising - a depiction of him in a 1930s advertising campaign by Coca Cola was very popular.
So there you go - you decide, will you call him Saint Nick, Father Christmas, Santa Claus or even Sinterklaas? I'm sticking to Father Christmas!
Sources: Wikipedia, History.com