Christmas is one of the most widely celebrated events in the world and is normally filled with love, laughter and many traditions. These have all originated in different places at separate times, but are as much a part of the season as the family and friends that we celebrate with.
Everybody knows this larger-than-life gift giver with his characteristic, ‘HO! HO! HO!’ greeting. Whether we refer to him as Kris Kringle, Father Christmas or Santa Claus, his red suit, long white beard and round tummy are ingrained in our minds from earliest childhood. Always a representation of joy and the spirit of giving, his image has changed over the years to become the one we now know and love.
The legend began with Saint Nicholas, a bishop who lived in the 4th century. Believed to be one of the kindest people to have ever walked the face of the Earth; his story started after he inherited a large fortune from his family, which he gave away to those less fortunate than him. He then began to travel his birth country, Myra (modern day Turkey), helping the poor and sick. Over time, Saint Nicholas became the patron saint of children and sailors. His legend continued to be appreciated throughout the world, particularly in Holland where they celebrate the anniversary of his death on December 6th. The Dutch fondly refer to him as Sinter Klaas, which is the origin of the English name Santa Klaus.
Even though the legend remained the same, the physical image of Santa varied until the 19th century. When Clement Clarke Moore wrote, and reluctantly published, the lengthy poem The Night Before Christmas children got a better idea of how he really looked. Coupled with images drawn by popular political cartoonist, Thomas Nast, in 1881 Santa Claus permanently became the rotund, jolly chap with pink cheeks that every child will recognise on sight.
Santa Claus himself has enjoyed many plum puddings while making his rounds. Even though we now eat these after our traditional Christmas meal, the origins of the pudding were quite different. During the 14th century, porridge was made with beef or mutton, fruit, spices and wine to be eaten as a fasting meal in preparation of the feast which would be served on Christmas day. The consistency changed as people started adding eggs, breadcrumbs and beer to it and by 1650 it had become customary to eat it as a Christmas pudding.
In 1664 the Puritans banned the eating of pudding as a ‘bad’ custom. In 1714, having sampled some himself, King Charles I re-established it as the traditional Christmas dessert and it transformed into the modern recipe that we use today. Many people bake a coin in the pudding, and it is believed that the family member that receives it will have good luck for the entire year!
More next week…