Yesterday was 6th December and so, officially, St Nicholas’ Day. However, it was Advent Sunday so I chose to concentrate on that instead.
I can’t remember (from my dark past as a Catholic) whether the Advent Sunday takes precedence over the Saint’s Day, or indeed whether St Nicholas still remains as a Saint in the pantheon of the Church. Who cares? St Nicholas still remains important to many Christians across the world as a Saint of Many People: he’s the Patron Saint of children, sailors, fishermen, repentant thieves, broadcasters and many countries, towns and cities across the world.
For many people, he’s the person behind the legend of Santa Claus (his name, slightly changed) and they read the history and the legends that have grown about him with that as part of their Christmas preparations. He’s the reason we have Christmas stockings, the reason we put an orange or satsuma in said stocking, the reason behind the small sacks of chocolate coins traditional at Christmas. From the early 19th Century onwards, he took over the role of gift giver and main secular figure of Christmas in the UK from the altogether more pagan Father Christmas (you can read about the pagan roots of Father Christmas in the Daily Read article shared below). This was helped in no small way by the poem, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement C Moore, more correctly known as A Visit From St Nick. First published in 1823, it established the modern consensus on Santa that he was broad, jolly, smiled a lot, had a red suit and entered (and exited) through the chimney. It also has the first recorded list of reindeer names with Dasher, Dancer, Prancer etc, although I rather prefer Grandsanta’s list in Arthur Christmas: “Dasher, Dancer, Prancer… what are the others, I can never remember… Bambi… John! You there with the white ear And You! Not you, you bag of Fleas….”
It’s credited with inspiring Cocoa Cola’s 1930s series of adverts, which really set the seal on Santa as a red-wearing old man at risk of diabetes and heart disease. A long way away from either St Nicholas of Myra’s life, which was spent giving away his money and serving the local poor… with a stint in prison for his belief as well! His memory is honoured in Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Germany and many places across the European Continent. You can read more about him and his legend on The St Nicholas Center website, as well as finding many crafts, stories and ideas for sharing his charitable spirit with others.
Of all the traditions relating to Santa that I enjoy, the writing of a letter to ask him for teh gifts I wanted most that year has been one that has stayed with me throughout all my life. When I was little, this was a colourful decorated list cribbed from the Argos Catalogue, the Book Of Dreams, and I so relate to the uproar that there was earlier this year at the news that the whole catalogue was going online. It should be noted that a smaller, Christmas based catalogue was released in September and actually called itself The Book of Dreams. In my teens, the letters shrunk to a piece of paper and a list of catalogue numbers, only to expand when I married Mr Hygge Jem to a comprehensive list of possible presents, isbn numbers for books and shop locations for others.
Nowadays, my list to Santa is a rather more prosaic wishlist on Amazon, and the surprised gasps on Christmas Day are more likely to be from the husband once he realises what he’s bought me than from me. I don’t do surprises. Not easily.
And children still send their letters to Santa: colouring in pictures of flying reindeers and jolly old elfs. It’s still more likely to be a list of toys than world peace, although this year I think “A Hug off Grandma” may creep into quite a few. Certainly, I’d love a hug off my Mum more than ever before. We (my children and I) used to sit and write to Santa complete with pictures and amazon links if necessary, before I, being a modern mother and with no chimney, would stick them up on the fridge as a reminder of what a month of good behaviour could get you.
Santa also didn’t GIVE the presents in our house. Mums and Dads worked hard and either sent the gifts to the North Pole or sent the money for Santa to fulfil the wishes. There might be a small cute gift from the Man himself, but otherwise my children knew that the amount, quality and value of the gifts depended heavily on how much the parents themselves could afford, and that was why their friends either got more or less than them. It’s worth having an explanation for why next door has a pony and they have a pencil. It also makes the inevitable Moment of Truth easier (although, for me the bell still rings)
And letters to and from Santa are still big business. You can either go with a charity, pay a for-profit organisation to send a personalised printed missive, or trust in the Royal Mail to put a smile on every child’s face. If you write to Santa (or Father Christmas) at Santa’s Grotto, Reindeerland, XM4 5HQ and post it by 11th December then the Royal Mail send the letters on to the elves, who spend ages replying to each one. That’s got to be one of the most unique public relations stories still going on in the modern world.
Daily Read: The Pagan Origins of Father Christmas. Over the years the pre-Christian green-robed Father Christmas and the red Santa got combined: this blogpost sets out the stories behind the original, pre-dating St Nicholas by a thousand years at least.
Daily Book: Letters From Father Christmas by J R R Tolkien. Facsimile copies of the letters from Father Christmas, the Polar Bear and an Elf (pre-Lord of the Rings) ‘sent’ by Father Christmas to Tolkien’s three sons. I used to leave letters as well… usually simple thank yous for the cookies and telling them to be good.
Self Care Act for Today: Write yourself a wishlist. No, go on. Put down all the things you think you’d like for Christmas. Five minutes a day to enjoy a cup of tea? A walk in the cool afternoon to clear the cooking haze? A day with your nearest and dearest? Write down the whole list, and keep it somewhere safe. You may not get your wishes before 25th December, but the wonderful thing about Christmas is it’s a feeling, not a day. See how many of them you can get before next Christmas.
How to Hygge the British Way is my gift to the world. I don’t get paid for writing it, I’m not in it for the kudos, financial rewards, to become an influencer, work with brands or otherwise make any money from the blog. That’s why there are no ads, and any products I mention and recommend have either been gifted or bought by me with my everyday wages.
I do get a couple of pennies each time someone buys from the Amazon links on my page, as an Amazon Affiliate, but otherwise if you’d like to support me, I like to give something back in return. That’s why I write books. You can find a full list of my books at my Author’s Page on Amazon, but especially recommended for this time of year are:
A Self Care Christmas: A short ebook on keeping Christmas simple and making sure it doesn’t overwhelm.
Celebrating a Contagious Christmas: Available in ebook and paperback, it’s about making this year a festival of Hope.
Happier: Probably my most personal book, it’s the story of how I used hygge and the little rhings in life to help boost my happiness. I still go back and reread to remind myself what I need to do to be a happy human.
Cosy Happy Hygge: Setting up a rhythm to life and rituals to enjoy it to make for a more balanced life that handles waves and storms better.
I wish you all a Merry Christmas, however we get to celebrate it this year, and a Happy, Healthy and Simple New Year.