Not wishing to be Oscar the Grouch in my old age, but Christmas isn’t so much fun anymore. When you have young children, there is a buzz around the house – and their schools, where Christmas decorations are festooned around noticeboards and ceilings almost as soon as the Halloween pumpkins start collapsing and the fake cobwebs have disappeared while the real ones take over.

I used to love the secret shopping, the shouts of ‘you can’t come in, I’m wrapping presents’; the excitement of ceremoniously bringing out The Christmas Tree, deciding if there are enough lights this year, and all the fun of hanging stuff on it. Santa was a legend, and encouraged many a child to ‘behave or else Santa won’t bring you anything!’

Giving Presents

We seem to have forgotten that gift-giving has its roots in pagan rituals held during the winter. To Christians, the gifts given at Christmas are symbolic of the tributes made to the baby Jesus by the Three Wise Men, the Magi, after his birth during the story of the Nativity.

In modern times, Christmas present gifting is to surprise and please both friends and family. People enjoy finding that perfect gift, and once wrapped and delivered, the giver watches the recipient's happy face as he or she unwraps it. Businesses often use this time of year for promotion and advertising, and many will send presents to valued clients to thank them for their business. Gift-giving is also a way to advertise the company and promote positive public relations.

All a bit commercial nowadays

Doesn’t it strike you that we have strayed from the path of what Christmas stands for? In some countries, Christmas is the day before and/or the day after, and is recognised by many national governments and cultures worldwide, including in areas where Christianity is a minority religion. Some don’t celebrate at all. In some non-Christian areas, periods of former colonial rule introduced the celebration (e.g. Hong Kong); in others, Christian minorities or foreign cultural influences have led populations to observe the holiday. Different cultures have long celebrated the winter solstice, which falls on December 21, and the origin of Christmas itself can be traced back to ancient Rome, where it evolved from a winter holiday called Saturnalia.

Credits: Unsplash; Author: @jessonmata;

Santa Claus

Where does he fit in? Well, he wasn’t invented by a certain fizzy cola company! The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas, who was believed to be born sometime around AD 280 in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. Much admired for his piety and kindness, St. Nicholas became the subject of many legends.

Father Christmas dates back to the 16th century in England during the reign of Henry VIII. Generally depicted as a portly, jolly, white-bearded man, often with spectacles, he wears a red suit and hat trimmed with white fur, a black leather belt and boots, and carries presents for children. He is popularly associated with a deep, hearty ‘ho, ho, ho!’ laugh (I always thought this a bit scary).

A version of this name dominates Western Europe in different languages - the French have Père Noël, the Spanish have Papá Noel, the Italians have Babbo Natale and the Irish have Daidí na Nollag, and in Portuguese is called Pai Natal. Other variants focus on 'Christmas Man' or on Jesus, as 'Christ-Child' or similar.

Let me tell you a true story. I have a pretty close relative who makes quite a good living out of acting Santa during the Christmas period. He has the right shape (being polite here as I know he will read this), wears gold-rimmed glasses, and is white-haired with a white beard that he starts cultivating back in April - a classic image of Santa. He has been in supermarkets out of ‘Santa mode’ several times, where small children point at him joyfully and exclaim ‘Santa!’ at the top of their voices. Said relative smiles and puts his finger to his lips and said ‘Shhh, don’t tell anybody!’ What happy kids they must have been, keeping such a big secret!


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan