Father Time and Mother Nature

n the history of how the concepts of Santa Claus and Christmas coevolved, St. Nicholas, a Bishop of Myra, Turkey, in the third century A.D., was the first candidate for winter benefactor. He would wander around in his red robe giving gifts to children, particularly poor ones. When his legend arrived in Britain after the Norman invasion, his persona was quickly merged into the legend of Father Christmas, which had been celebrated there for several hundred years. Typically, Father Christmas would show up during midwinter festivals as a pagan figure representing the coming of spring. His garb was traditionally green, and he wore a wreath made of holly and mistletoe.

Time’s Association with Gifting

During the Saxon invasions of the fifth and sixth centuries, Father Christmas merged with the Saxons’ Father Time, also known as King Winter or King Frost. Someone would adorn himself as Father Time and show up at homes, where he would be seated near the fire and given good things to eat and drink. It was believed that, in return for being good to Father Time, a short winter would result, and so he became associated with gifts.

To Be Many Places at Once

When the Vikings invaded Britain, they brought with them their myths, including the winter celebration of Jultid, which we now know as yuletide. They too offered an elderly man, but one who possessed the power to know who was good and who was bad, giving gifts in accordance with those value judgments. Modeled after the Norse god Odin, Father Time took on a portly character and, like Odin, the ability to speed up time, being in many places seemingly at once.

Father Time Will Never Be Forgot

When the Normans returned, the guises continued to converge, and Father Time—now also referred to as Father Christmas, Sir Christmas, and even Captain Christmas—propounded good cheer and benevolence for all. For a while, there was stability, but by mid-seventeenth century, the Puritans banned the celebration of Christmas, and Father Time went underground. In the so-called mummers plays of that era, nevertheless, Father Time would show up briefly at the opening to announce “In comes I, old Father Christmas, be I welcome or be I not? I hope old Father Christmas, will never be forgot.”*

Yet it took more than 200 years, until the threshold of the Victorian age, for the full revival of Father Time or Father Christmas. Then all of the elements from his evolution were present: pagan, jolly, and garbed in red, green, blue, or brown. Odin reemerged, as did St. Nicholas, and the spirit of Christmas was forged.

Red is Established as the Gifter’s Definitive Color

Yet what we had delivered to us in the twentieth century was a further amalgam of additional influences, especially including the drawings for the Ghost of Christmas Present for Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the illustrations for the poem “The Night before Christmas,” the work of political cartoonist Thomas Nast in Harper’s Weekly and elsewhere, and the advertisements of the Coca-Cola Company. Coke established red as the definitive color for Santa Claus.

Mother Nature, Where Art Thou?

And why are you, Mother Nature, not more clearly related to the winter time of gifting and, for that matter, to Father Time? Mother Nature showed up in ancient Greece as Physis, meaning birth. In Greek mythology, she was definitely connected to the season of winter through the story of Demeter and Persephone. However, it is somewhat unclear how she became widely popular during the Middle Ages. Perhaps the reemergence of paganism, a religion of nature, was in part responsible.

In current times, while still quite popular—we cite her often in this publication!—Mother Nature belongs, as a vital part, to the Christmas celebration of joy and benevolence. Whether married to Father Time or not, as some legends have it, she is rarely directly associated with gifting at midwinter.

But why? Given the many offerings of hers that grace our festival tables in the forms of seasonal food—and the wonderful herbs and other supplements that are directly associated with her bounty and that make us healthier and happier—we nominate her to be known henceforth as Mother Christmas (at least when she’s not working). Please bring her into your homes during the solstice this year to show your appreciation and to increase your merriment.

Enjoy the Holidays,

Life Enhancement

*Similar enough to what celebrants of Guy Fawkes would say in remembrance of the earlier seventeenth century Gunpowder Plot, “Remember, remember the fifth of November, The gunpowder, treason and plot, I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason, Should ever be forgot.” Conspirators learn from each other.

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