Two items appear below:

1   All About Christmas
2   Christmas in England


(Investigator 147, 2012 November)

Jingle Bells has nothing to do with Christmas; reindeer don't fly; Rudolph is probably a female; and Santa is a bad role model. Read on:


Of Christian festivals the most joyous is December 25, Christmas Day, the traditional anniversary of the "Son of God" being born on Earth.

Many churches hold special meetings including pantomimes of the "three wise men" giving gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus. (Frankincense is harvested in liquid form from Boswellia trees and burned as incense when dried, and myrrh is a perfume-like secretion of Commiphora plants.)

"Christmas" is derived from "Christ's Mass". In medieval England the Church celebrated three masses on Christmas day — midnight, dawn and again later.

For many people Christmas includes church attendance, feasts, family get-togethers, Christmas pudding, Christmas tree, Santa's visit, presents, cards, carols, mince pies, and watching Christmas movies.
How did it all begin?


Emperor Aurelian (reigned 270-275) sponsored the cult of Sol Victus (Invincible Sun) based on the Iranian god Mithra whose birthday was December 25. Romans also celebrated the "Saturnalia", December 17-24, characterized by revelry, drunkenness and exchange of gifts. The Saturnalia included the winter solstice which honoured the "unconquered sun" when daylight starts to lengthen.

Under Constantine, the first Christian emperor (311-337), Christ's birth was fixed to December 25 and the Christian Christmas festival was celebrated by AD 336.

The North Europeans celebrated the festival of Yuletide with fellowship, fires, and Yule cakes, and honored the "terrors of the night" such as demons or spirits. People dressed to represent various gods or wore demonic masks and horns to represent the demon "Julebuk" who brought gifts to children. In England the medieval festival known as the "Feast of Fools" or the "Reign of the Lord of Misrule" retained some of the Saturnalia and Yultide atmosphere.  

After Christianity penetrated these lands the "demon worship" and riotous elements of festivals were replaced with church attendance and customs to honor Christ.


Saint Nicholas was a 4th century bishop in sun-baked Asia Minor with a reputation for secret gift-giving. He once provided dowries for three girls who otherwise faced becoming prostitutes. Legend has it that on Christmas Eve he threw purses of gold coins through the window and one fell into a stocking hung up to dry.

Saint Nicholas later became the patron saint of Russia where he was considered the protector of children, scholars, merchants and sailors. Europeans honored him with a feast-day and gift-giving every December 6th. Dutch immigrants brought this custom to New York. To them he was "Sinterklaas" — a dour figure in dark robes who arrived on a flying horse.

Sinterklaas loosely resembles the ancient Germanic god Thor, imagined by peasants as elderly and bearded, whose chariot, pulled by two goats through the sky caused thunder at night. Thor was protective of humans and lived far north in the snow. Whether such similarity proves derivation is, however, debatable. The modern Santa Claus/Father Christmas becomes recognizable in 1823 when Clement Clarke Moore, professor of Hebrew and Oriental languages, wrote the 56-line poem Twas The Night Before Christmas. The poem moved Saint Nicholas from December 6th to 25th and portrayed him as a friendly, fat, pipe-smoking, white-bearded deliverer of toys. The flying sleigh, chimney-descent, and stockings are all mentioned and eight reindeer named.

Americans took the poem to heart, changed "Sinterklaas" to "Santa Claus", and it became folklore. Thomas Nast (1840-1902) — the "father of American political cartooning" — converted Moore's word-description into pictures for Harper's Weekly. The first depiction published in January 1863 shows Santa handing presents to Union soldiers. After 1890 Nast's Santa looked exactly like today's Santa including red costume with white trimmings. Apparently Nast also introduced elves and added the North Pole workshop.

In 1927 the Finns transferred Santa's home to Lapland because the North Pole lacking lichen could not sustain reindeer.

The British retained "Father Christmas" and the Germans "Der Weihnachtsman" (literally "The Christmas Man") perhaps because "Santa Claus" with its Saint Nicholas connection smacked of Catholicism.

Rogan Taylor (1981) connects some aspects of Christmas to Siberian "reindeer people" who used reindeer for food, clothing and utensils and to whom reindeer personified the great Reindeer spirit. Tribal shamans enter trances brought on by eating mushrooms known as fly agaric (Amanita muscaria). These have a bright red top with white spots and are hallucinogenic and deadly in large doses.

Taylor considers it "suggestive" that fly agaric is bright red — like Santa's costume! Furthermore, Siberian winter dwellings ("yurts") consisted of excavated holes with birch-log roofs supported by poles. A hole in the roof for smoke is the main entrance for people i.e. door and chimney is the same — again reminiscent of Father Christmas! The shamans are middlemen between tribe and spirit-world from which they bring songs, legends, tricks and poems — in effect "gifts"

Taylor says: "…it seems reasonable to believe that the story of Father Christmas and his team of aerial reindeer may have evolved out of such experiences…"

The European/American links, however, are more plausible.

Jingle Bells was composed in 1857 by James Pierpoint (son of an abolitionist minister) for children celebrating Thanksgiving. Jingle Bells was not originally a Christmas song and does not mention Santa or reindeer — rather a horse. The song's catchy rhythm and reference to sleigh and bells simply made it great for Christmas and it rapidly became popular.

Santa as the essence of Christmas intensified in 1897 with the famous New York Sun editorial (September 21) addressed to Virginia O'Hara (1889-1971) reassuring her that Santa is real.

America was modernizing, innovation was endless, and consumerism boomed. Retailers soon exploited America's prosperity with Christmas advertising and Santa appearing in department stores.

Santa's depiction remained variable until 1931 when standardized by Coca Cola's ad campaign showing Santa drinking coke. Coke's Santa was painted by Haddon Sundblom (1899-1976) and followed Nast's depiction. On mainland Europe, however, Father Christmas continued to look more like a bishop or priest celebrating Mass.

American song-writer Fred Coots (1897-1985) and lyricist James Gillespie (1888-1975) complemented Christmas with Santa Claus is Coming To Town (1934) — one of the biggest sellers in music history.


Christmas includes Christmas trees, gaily decorated, loaded with sweet edibles, and crowned by a star.

The Encyclopedia Britannica says: "The use of evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands as a symbol of eternal life was an ancient custom of the Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews. Tree worship, common among the pagan Europeans, survived after their conversion to Christianity in the Scandinavian customs of decorating the house and barn with evergreens at the New Year to scare away the devil and of setting up a tree for the birds during Christmastime..."

The Britannica further says: "The main prop of a popular medieval play about Adam and Eve was a fir tree hung with apples (paradise tree) representing the Garden of Eden. The Germans set up a paradise tree in their homes on December 24, the religious feast day of Adam and Eve. They hung wafers on it…cookies [and] candles..."  

Legend says that Martin Luther cut a small tree one Christmas for his neighbors' children and attached candles to it. German peasants took up the practice and also hung presents on the tree on Christmas Eve. French soldiers brought the custom to France during the Napoleonic Wars.

Prince Albert, the German husband of Queen Victoria, set up a Christmas tree in Windsor Castle in 1841 and the practice spread through England. German settlers introduced Christmas trees to America in the 17th century. Missionaries later introduced Christmas trees to China, Japan and throughout the world.

Holly and mistletoe had ancient pagan associations long before being adopted into Christmas. Holly symbolized the crown of thorns and its berries Jesus' blood. Mistletoe was sacred to the ancient Druids but to Christians it symbolized Christian love.


Carols were sung by wandering minstrels on Christmas Eve in medieval times — Good King Wenceslas is of 14th century origin. In the 15th century Caxton's printing press printed the first collection of English carols.

Silent Night originated in a church in Austria in 1818. Hungry mice had destroyed the organ bellows which meant no music on Christmas Eve. Father Mohr saved the situation by fitting a carol he had written to a tune improvised by schoolmaster Franz Gruber on his guitar. Within 50 years Silent Night was being sung around the world.

The Christmas pudding — today rich and fruity — started off as a poor-man's dish of flour, milk, salt and herb eaten before mass on Christmas Eve. This developed into the traditional pudding after King Henry VIII got delayed in the woods when out hunting on Christmas Eve and insisted on being served a substantial meal. A servant collected meat, apples, eggs, flour, sugar and ale at a nearby village and boiled it all together. By the 18th century "plum pudding" and Christmas seemed inseparable in England.

With England "ruling the waves" foreign delicacies such as currants, sugar and spice became cheaper and mince pies with the contents we know today became popular. In 1770 Sir Henry Grey of Northumberland served his Christmas guests a pie nine feet in diameter stuffed with partridges, ducks, geese and rabbits besides fruits and spices.

After 1800 roast turkey became the centerpiece of Christmas dinner. The Spanish had introduced turkeys to Europe from Mexico in the 16th century and James I was the first English monarch to eat them. Previously, Queen Elizabeth had dined on peacock and the gentry on swan or goose stuffed with chestnuts.


In 1970 Americans bought 2000 million Christmas cards and the British 1000 million, an average of ten per person!

Sir Henry Cole thought them up in 1843; his artist friend John Horsley designed the first one; and Summerby's Home Treasury Office in London printed it. The card depicted Victorian middle-class parents, three children and grandparents seated around a food-laden table. To the right and left are pictures depicting poor people receiving food and clothes, and underneath a banner reads "A MERRY CHRISMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU". The card was hand-colored, expensive, and only 1000 produced.

The second Christmas card was designed in 1848 by W M Egley, and depicted dancing and feasting.

In the 1860s came mass-produced Christmas cards, brightly colored and cheap. Prussian lithographer Louis Prang introduced them to the USA in the 1870s. Today, popular depictions include:

•    Stable and animals;
•    Mary and Jesus;
•    Three wise men;
•    Christmas Star;
•    Shepherds and sheep;
•    Angels;
•    Christmas tree;
•    Mistletoe;
•    A church;
•    A snowman;
•    Santa Claus;
•    Landscape.


Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer appeared in 1939 in a booklet authored by Robert May and 2,400,000 copies distributed.

May's brother-in-law Johnny Marks (1909-1984) adapted Rudolph into a song released by Gene Autry in 1949. The song reached No. 1 and Rudolph entered folklore. Further recordings were made by Bing Crosby (1950), Dean Martin (1959), The Jackson Five (1970) and many other celebrities.

Rudolph became Santa's lead reindeer with a glowing red nose that shines through bad weather like car headlights.

Rudolph first appeared on screen in 1947 in a cartoon short; NBC released an animated TV special in 1964 which introduced a reindeer love interest named Clarice; and in 1998 came Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie. Rudolph also appeared annually in DC Comics 1950-1962, and in Golden Books (1958).

Unclarified is Rudolph's sex. Possession of antlers at Christmas identifies "him" as female since males lose their antlers in November-December whereas females retain them until spring. Alternatively Rudolph is a eunuch — since castrated male reindeer retain their antlers. Inform all children!


"Operation Santa" is a US Postal Service program at North Pole, an actual town in Alaska, which answers "Dear Santa" letters. Since 1954 many children have received replies with genuine "North Pole" postmarks.

In 2008 one Operation Santa worker was found to be a registered sex offender and the Postal Service decided to cease Operation Santa. North Pole residents protested and the mayor, Doug Isaacson "accused the postal service of riding roughshod over his town." (The Weekend Australian 2009, November 21-22, p21)

Extreme Protestants known as Puritans outlawed England's 12-day-long Christmas festivities from 1642 to 1660 as "heathen customs" and Parliament substituted a holiday the second Tuesday of every month. The ban failed because the public simply loved Christmas! (Durston 1985)

Christadelphians and Jehovah's Witnesses ignore Christmas because of its "pagan origins" but may compensate children with presents several weeks before or after. Enquiry at a Church of Christ revealed that the parents don't teach their children about Santa or his reindeer because the Bible condemns lies. Instead they focused on Jesus' birth and gave children presents to honor Jesus.

The public considers Santa a pleasant fantasy to make growing up more joyful, no more deceitful than movies or fiction books. Santa, however, is so pervasive that to kids he's more real than God and includes:
•    Meeting him in stores;
•    Personalized e-mails from Santa's workshop;
•    Internet tracking of his sleigh on Christmas Eve;
•    Testimony from trusted parents and relatives;
•    Physical evidence of gifts by the Christmas tree.

"Santa detector" stockings which sound an alarm when gifts are inserted are commercially available and would expose the truth, but most kids don't know about them.

In a survey of adults 86% admitted having believed in Santa. Most stopped believing between age 6 and 10 although 15% still believed after age 10. (Vines 2007) The myth crumbles when adults stop reinforcing it and children piece the evidence together.


Smith and McCallum (2007) write: "Christmas and the following 2 weeks host the highest cardiac and non-cardiac mortality of the major holidays... On the positive side, some ancient kinds of Christmas gifts turn out to have modern medical applications…"

They discuss gold compounds to treat rheumatoid arthritis and tuberculosis; frankincense to inhibit asthma and microbes; myrrh for schistosomiasis and antibacterial activity; and mistletoe extracts to treat bladder carcinoma and prostate cancer.

A report titled Warning: Christmas is a health Hazard said:
Professor Ron Pirola, associate professor of medicine at Sydney's Prince of Wales Hospital, said…doctors were preparing for an influx of gluttony-related health problems late in December…a small percentage would simply feast themselves to death.

Among problems linked with overeating was gullet rupture, a condition where the stomach lining broke because of a vomiting attack triggered by eating too much…

Fatty foods…could trigger gall bladder disease in those prone to the problem. (The Advertiser [South Australia] 1991, December 12, p3)

The report added that heavy drinking may cause pancreatitis which kills 10% of sufferers, gastritis with blood-vomiting and death, and liver failure from alcoholic hepatitis; and that overeating could ignite epilepsy.

The Chiropractors Association warned that: "every year people in a hurry wound up in agony during the Christmas shopping rush…back problems increased about 20 per cent at Christmas, and there appeared to be a direct link to shopping." (Ibid)

With Christmas often painful perhaps your doctor will prescribe myrrh as a painkiller:
The journal Nature says mice were fed a "drink" of ground commercial myrrh, then put on a metal plate heated to 52C and watched to see how soon they would react by licking their paws.

The "myrrh" mice lasted 20 minutes — nearly six minutes longer than "normal" mice… (The Advertiser January 6, 1996, p3)

If myrrh doesn't give relief, try distracting yourself with Santa movies:
1947    Miracle on 34th Street
1964    Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
1966    Christmas That Almost Wasn't
1985    Santa Claus
1994    Miracle on 34th Street
1994    The Santa Clause
2000    The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus
2002    Friday After Next
2002    The Santa Clause II
2002    Santa, Jr.
2003    Bad Santa
2003    Elf
2003    Secret Santa
2003    Stealing Christmas
2004    The Polar Express
2004    Boyfriend For Christmas
2005    Meet The Santas
2006    The Santa Clause III
2006    The Year Without Santa Claus
2007    Fred Claus
2008    Clash of the Santas


Finally, what sort of role model is Santa? He promotes generosity which is commendable. Imitate his other habits, however, and you'll soon be in hospital or jail.

Jennifer Gibson, pharmacist, points out on the Internet that Santa is obese (prefers cookies to vegetables), exceeds speed limits, drinks on the job, lurks on icy/slippery rooftops, breaks and enters, creates fire hazards in chimneys, and ignores safety-helmet and seat-belt laws.


Durston, C Lords of Misrule, History Today, December 1985, pp 7-14

Parade, All About Christmas, December 1972, pp 7-10

Parade, The First Christmas Cards, December 1972, pp 24-26

Smith, S M and McCallum, B J The Medical Journal of Australia, 2007; 187 (11/12): 701-702

Taylor, R Woman's Day/Woman's World, December 23, 1981, pp 14-16

Vines, G The Santa delusion, New Scientist, December 22/29, 2007, pp36-37


(Investigator 147, 2012 November)

Although both names "Santa Claus" and "Father Christmas" are acceptable and used in today's UK, at least 99% of children talk of "Father Christmas".

In all the big stores, especially in central London, there is still a grotto of sorts set up several weeks before 25th December, where kids for a fee can visit Father Christmas (NEVER Santa Claus!), tell him what they want delivered to them on Christmas day, and receive a small "gift" from him.   

The big change that is evident in these grottos is that in my childhood (in the Myer Emporium in Adelaide) the child sat on Father Christmas' lap. Nowadays, that doesn't happen — childhood sexual abuse legislation!

When I spent my first Xmas in the UK in 1951 I noted that the average UK family probably received (and displayed in their homes) a hundred cards whereas in Australia Xmas cards were hardly seen.  

Another difference was more yule logs and mistletoe decorations than in Adelaide. (For several weeks each year, at Xmas time, while at Adelaide High School, I worked as a part-time sales assistant at the said Myer Emporium, so I'd have been aware of what was being sold!)

Father Christmas' outfit remains unchanged in the UK and yes, kids still leave especially purchased stockings or pillow cases at the foot of their beds. There are also the reindeer, and he lives at the North Pole. (One of our kids wrote to him there and received a reply — the post office organized this at the time.)   

All the other legends also remain in place.

We received a 'Christmas catalogue' of Children's gifts from one of our largest stores. In 130 pages there is NO reference, anywhere, to Father Christmas or Santa Claus or Christ.

Bob Potter

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