A mother has said that she has been criticised online for saying Father Christmas instead of Santa because it is not gender neutral.

The mum said she was discussing a book on Facebook and she used the masculine noun, but was told ‘Santa is now seen as gender neutral’ and was the preferred term for many parents.

The woman, from Plymouth, says she does not want to offend anyone and has been left feeling on edge.

She said: ‘I’ve just been shamed for using the name ‘Father Christmas’ and [told] that “Santa” is now seen as gender neutral.

‘I was only referring to the book [‘Father Christmas’ by Raymond Briggs] but it’s left me a little confused/on edge about what we are allowed to say.

‘I have a small child and don’t really want to raise him saying “Father Christmas” if it’s hurtful to some.’

Santa Claus is based on St Nicholas, a fourth century bishop who lived in what is now Turkey. He was a very wealthy man and used that money to help the poor and give secret gifts to people.

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The interpretations of him have changed over the centuries, but always with the theme of generosity.

France and Italy use Pere Noel and Babbo Natale respectively and both follow the British masculine model.

Germany and Poland (Weihnachtsmann and Mikulas and Mikolaj) both say Nicholas while in Russia they use Grandfather Frost (Ded Moroz).

However in Ukraine, they use the term Snegurochka, which means snow maiden. She first appeared in Russian folklore in the 19th century and is depicted as Ded Moroz’s granddaughter and helper.

Reacting to the Plymouth mum’s comment, another mother said: ‘Santa is so American, Father Christmas here and will always be Father Christmas. It’s always a man.’

In a survey last year only a small number of people – 15 per cent – said they felt Father Christmas should become gender neutral.

The campaign has not received backing from any major LGBT bodies or charities.