The most influential figure in shaping our present day Father Christmas was St Nicholas of Smyrna, now Turkey, who was a 4th century bishop. As a champion of children and the needy, he became a legend for his kindness and generosity. The Orthodox Church later raised St Nicholas to a position of great esteem and he became the patron saint of children and seafarers. His feast day is celebrated on December 6.
In the Protestant areas of central and northern Germany he became known as Der Weihnachsmann, Father Christmas in England, Pere Noel in France and Bodach na Nollaig in the Gaelic speaking areas of Scotland. Dutch settlers arriving in New York referred to him as Sinter Klass and later the American press dubbed him as St A Claus. American author Washington Irving got in on the act and largely through his perpetuation and enhancement the name Santa Claus was born. The distinctive red coat is a much later innovation thanks to its introduction in an 1930s advert launched by the Coco Cola Company and leading to iconic status. Continue reading....
Santa's mode of travel by sleigh, pulled by 8 reindeer, is of debatable origin, but much of it is credited to the American poet and writer Edmund Clarence Stedman. A further reindeer, the outcast Rudolph of shiny nose fame, was added in 1939 by Robert L May in verses he penned for the Montgomery Ward chain of department stores. May's radio producer brother in law Johnny Marks set it to music and it was first recorded by crooner Harry Brannon in 1948. One year later, singing cowboy star Gene Autry made it his own and the song continues to be an integral part of the Christmas music scene.
Up to 60 years ago Santa did not feature largely in what was then a low key celebration of Christmas in the Highlands and Islands. Although a number of children's parties were held, usually by local churches, an appearance by Santa was a rare event. Earlier, island children were told of Bodach an Nollaig who arrived on Oidhche Challainn (Hogmanay) and the opening of the distributed presents took place in the early hours of An Nollaig Bhig (New Year's Day).
Written by Hugh Smith for the Ileach Newspaper