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Santa or Father Christmas?

santa or father xmas fancy dress

Do you know there is a difference?

If you thought Santa and Father Christmas were one and the same you are not alone.


At our shop in London's West End we did a straw-poll asking customers the difference between a Santa and Father Christmas costume.

Only five people knew the difference and could explain it without any prompting or clues.  After a few pointers, a further five people were able say which was which; the remaining 20 did not know that there was any difference at all.
Interestingly, the five that were able to explain the difference immediately were all men...!

This Angels poll shows that there is clearly a need for clarification, so here goes...

father christmas or santa costume


Although entirely separate from Santa, St Nicholas (among many other influences) is thought to be the origin of this character.

Confusingly, St Nicholas wore a long red cape (rather like Father Christmas), a hat and he carried a long gold staff. St Nicholas had a reputation as a secret gift giver, leaving donations in the shoes of those in need.

St Nicholas' popularity spread throughout Christian areas.  The tradition of celebrating St Nicholas is thought to have arrived in North America with Dutch immigrants, before mixing with other influences in the developing North America, to grow into the Santa of today. 

Santa Claus' costume is a fur-trimmed red jacket, trousers and hat. He wears black boots and has a wide leather belt.  This look is often solely attributed to the 1930's advertising campaigns of Coca-Cola®. However, a Thomas Nast cartoon for Harper's Weekly in 1863 depicts this same red and white-clad character long before Coca-Cola® ever used him as a marketing tool - it is merely co-incidence that these are the colours associated with the iconic drinks brand. Nast is credited with cementing our modern idea of Santa as a heavyset man with a beard, although his Santa character was designed to look somewhat elf-like and to some modern eyes he was unfriendly and a little disturbing.

What is indisputable is that Coca-Cola® developed him into a much more jovial character during the 20th century - this has filtered down through many other incarnations of Santa and has now entered the general western consciousness as a canonical image. Much like Nast and his cartoons for Harper's Weekly, Coca-Cola® also began with an unapproachable looking Santa but later decided to make him more user-friendly.


Many references to Santa list St Nicholas et al as the originator of both Father Christmas and Santa, and then go on to say that Santa and Father Christmas are the same. Well, most assuredly they are not!

Take a look at Father Christmas' costume, where are the trousers? Father Chrismas' costume styling owes much more to a time when trousers were not invented - pre medieval times!

To find the true origins of Father Christmas we need to go way, WAY back in the mists of European and British history to when the Green Man was celebrated as the personification of Nature. He had a jovial face, often bearded, sometimes with his face and beard constructed from leaves. The Green Man was garlanded with Ivy and berry-festooned holly. Depictions of the Green Man can be found in some of the oldest churches around the UK. These are known as 'foliate heads', and such images re-gained popularity in Victorian design.

The Green Man was a symbol of plenty, but was not associated with the giving of gifts. It was the Victorians that combined the Green Man with St Nicholas, changing the colour of his clothing to red and associating him with the practice of giving gifts.

Like the Green Man before him, Father Christmas has always been a jovial Character. His costume is a full-length red robe, sometimes with a hood attached and often with a short cape.  The short cape on a coat was from his Victorian re-invention.  He wears black boots and has either a red fabric belt or a white rope belt.

santa or father christmas outfit

So now you know the difference...

Santa appears on many commercials, advertisements and Christmas Cards - his popularity appears to be boundless. However, Father Christmas has British roots and there is something undeniably special about the age-old story behind his origin.

Our company was founded in 1840, at the time when the Victorians were developing many of the traditions that we now associate with Christmas.


We hire Father Christmas and Santa Claus costumes to many people across the social spectrum, including well known celebrities and politicians. In the early 1970's Ted Heath (the Conservative Prime Minister) commissioned a blue Father Christmas costume, spurning the socialist red! If only we could ask him why they didn't go for a Santa...?


Perhaps it's time someone did something to bring Father Christmas back into the hearts and minds of the great British public...