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In early Britain, the fore runner of Father Christmas was an ancient pagan figure who represented the coming of spring in mid-winter festivals. He wore a long green hooded cloak with a wreath of holly, mistletoe or ivy.
In the 5th century under Saxon rule, he took on the characteristics of Father Time also known as King Frost or King Winter; who would be invited into homes to sit by the fire and enjoy food and drink. It was thought that this would bring good fortune and a mild winter.
The Norman influence brings the story of St. Nicolas to Britain. A 15th century carol refers to Father Christmas with the line: “Welcome my lord Christemas”. This begins the representation of Father Christmas as the spirit of Christmas with good cheer and benevolence.
The Vikings added their own mid winter traditions. For them December 20th through the 31st was known as “Jultid” , when the god Odin takes on the character of Jul, a white bearded character who visits the earth on his eight legged horse Sleipner, giving gifts to the good and punishing the bad. We still call this time of year yuletide.
Because of religious beliefs, in 1644 the celebration of Christmas was banned along with the figure of Father Christmas. However, he remained popular in Mummers Plays.
During the Victorian with the influence of Charles Dickens, the celebration of Christmas by the royal family and writings by Washington Irving, Christmas celebrations and Father Christmas became a part of the British culture.
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