‘Dear Father Christmas’: Tracing the history of a folkloric custom

In the 19th century, a London journalist noted that children continued to use the ‘most utilitarian of inventions as a means of communicating with their patron saint’. By this, they were referring to letters written to Father Christmas. This talk traces the history of the folkloric custom of writing such letters. When and how did it start? Where is it practiced? What folklore surrounds it? What becomes of the letters once they are posted? And, through this custom, what can we learn about the beliefs and desires of children, so often absent from the historical record? Fortunately, enough of these letters found their way – via the North Pole, of course – into archives, and this talk draws on these precious collections not only to explore the folklore of Father Christmas, but also to give voices to children over the decades and around the globe.


Dr Ceri Houlbrook is a Senior Lecturer in Folklore and History at the University of Hertfordshire, and Programme Leader of the Folklore Studies MA. She is also a Council member of the Folklore Society and editor of its newsletter. Ceri is primarily interested in contemporary adaptations of historic customs and creations of folklore, having published books on coin-trees, love-locks, concealed objects, and witch-bottles. In 2023, Ceri published her debut novel, based on her archival research into letters to Father Christmas: Winter’s Wishfall, published by Bonnier Books.

Curated & Hosted by

Marguerite Johnson is a cultural historian of the ancient Mediterranean, specialising in sexuality and gender, particularly in the poetry of Sappho, Catullus, and Ovid, as well as magical traditions in Greece, Rome, and the Near East. She also researches Classical Reception Studies, with a regular focus on Australia. In addition to ancient world studies, Marguerite is interested in sexual histories in modernity as well as magic in the west more broadly, especially the practices and art of Australian witch, Rosaleen Norton. She is Honorary Professor of Classics and Ancient History at The University of Queensland, and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

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4th Dec 2024 8:00 pm - 9:30 pm

£6 - £10 & By Donation

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