Whilst commenting on the trustworthiness of beards, many of our visitors have remarked that “you can trust Santa and he has a beard”. Santa’s beard, is arguably the most renowned facial fluff out there.
Nowadays Father Christmas and Santa Claus are near enough one and the same person. But the figure we know and love today has come about through an evolution of a mixture of several global characters, each with their own origins and notable characteristics. One thing that is constant in ALL depictions and descriptions of them since the dawn of time is the beard.
Over in the States, Santa Claus, whose name evolved from the Anglicised Dutch ‘Sinter Klaas’, or ‘Saint Nicholas’ – was a bearded saint from c280AD famed for his charitable endeavours travelling the Turkish countryside to bring relief to the poor and needy. The Dutch seem to have clung to him, even when the worship of other Saints fell by the wayside and eventually, brought him across the pond to New York in the eighteenth century. His feast day, commemorating his death, on 4th December was later moved into alignment with Christmas Day on the 25th.
The image of Santa has had several incarnations but perhaps the most recognisable is Clement Clark Moore’s “Jolly Old Elf” who appears on the night before Christmas in his much loved poem, resplendent in a red cloak with glowing cheeks and a big fluffy white beard.
Back in Blighty, much like the make-up of our population, Father Christmas is an amalgamation from several European countries. The first of these being Pagan, when a costumed figure would appear at mid-Winter festivals. Charitable in a different way to Saint Nick, he represented the coming of Spring and new growth, something which was depicted in his costume: adorned in a green cloak, with holly and mistletoe about his crown and, being at one with nature with, of course, a full beard.
This figure evolved during Saxon rule to ‘King Winter’ or ‘King Frost’, who would visit homes and be fed and watered in the hope for a mild winter in return. Another of Father Christmas’ ancestors is the Nordic God Odin, a rotund man with a white beard and, this time, a blue hooded cloak thought to have travelled the world on this eight-legged horse Sleipnir, gifting the good and punishing the bad.
Though Father Christmas has never been shaven, it is interesting to note that the peaks of his popularity in historic periods have seemed to coincide with those of facial hair. Having been silenced by Cromwell after the English Civil War, Father Christmas’ quietest moment began in the mid-17th century and, though not completely forgotten – sneaking into theatre shows and begging to be remembered probably helped – he kept a pretty low profile until the mid-nineteenth century.
Much like the beard, he was back with a bang in the Victorian era, alongside an explosion of Christmas festivities. Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ published in 1843 saw in a new era of festive philanthropy, of which Father Christmas was the ultimate figurehead.
On Tuesday 20th December we will be hosting a family workshop at the museum, where you can make your own Santa’s beard. Book your place here.