Father Christmas or Santa Claus has become the human face of Christmas. Pictures will be seen everywhere of the old man with a long white beard, red coat and a bag of toys. Children are taught that he brings them gifts the night before Christmas and many children up to the age of 7 or 8 really believe this is true.
In most countries, it is said that he lives near the North Pole, and travels through the sky on a sledge (snow-cart) pulled by reindeer. He comes into houses down the chimney at midnight and places presents for the children in socks or bags by their beds or in front of the family Christmas tree.
In shops or at children's parties, someone will dress up as Father Christmas and give small presents to children, or ask them what gifts they want for Christmas. Christmas can be a time of magic and excitement for children.
Father Christmas is based on a real person, St. Nicholas, which explains his other name 'Santa Claus' which comes from the Dutch 'Sinterklaas'.
Nicholas was a Christian leader from Myra (in modern-day Turkey) in the 4th century AD. He was very shy, and wanted to give money to poor people without them knowing about it.
It is said that one day, he climbed the roof of a house and dropped a purse of money down the chimney. It landed in the stocking, which a girl had put to dry by the fire! This may explain the belief that Father Christmas comes down the chimney and places gifts in children's stockings.
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