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Santa Claus and Father Christmas: the difference explained

December 22, 2015

Today I’m going to tell you something interesting about the difference between Santa Claus and Father Christmas. I’ve blogged before about how Americans use only the former term, while we Brits prefer the latter. But I never knew the reason for this. I’d always assumed they were two different names for the same person. But they’re not.

When we were filming Back in Time for Christmas, Giles Coren turned up in the 70s dressed as Father Christmas and explained the difference to us. The scene did not make the final cut so I record his explanation here. Father Christmas was an old English personification of Christmas cheer. He had nothing to do with giving presents. He was all about boozing and feasting. He wasn’t popular with Puritans, so they didn’t take him to America with them when they emigrated from England in the 17th century.

However, later waves of settlers in America from the Netherlands and other countries brought Santa Claus with them – a mythical figure based on St. Nicholas, who brings gifts.

Now, of course, in Britain we have more or less amalgamated the two. Which is good because we get the boozing and feasting and the presents. Ho ho ho!

Merry Christmas everybody!

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One Comment
  1. I think ‘Father Christmas’ is more English, than British. My experience living in Scotland is that it has always been Santa Claus, never Father Christmas but then we always had more links with the Low Countries than England. I always find ‘Father Christmas’ slightly archaic. Of course Christmas is more of an English festival than Scottish one. Until the late 1950’s Christmas was not a holiday in Scotland and Boxing Day only became a holiday in the 1970s. My mother (90) still talks about how presents were exchanged at Hogmanay and New Year, never Christmas. Although London may have been fire bombed I don’t think there was a mass bombing of Scotland at Christmas 1940, and our buses do run on Christmas Day, well they do in Edinburgh.

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