TWO powerful figures - Father Christmas and the Viking warrier Orm - joined forces in York to promote the launch of the 20th Jorvik Viking Festival programme.

Standing in Coppergate, the pair exchanged Christmas gifts in order to start the countdown to the 20th annual festival, which runs between February 4 and February 20 2005.

The Jorvik Viking Festival is organised and funded by the York Archaeological Trust and will be launched with a weekend of children's activities.

There will be themed events each weekend and in the final week our Viking heritage will be celebrated with saga, dance and song.

The festival programme shows that activities during the two-week event include a Viking wedding, battle drills, a trade fair and workshops such as Design a Viking tunic.

A spokeswoman for the York Archaeological Trust said the meeting of the two figures may have looked strange to the Christmas shoppers in the city, but in fact it was perfectly seasonal.

She said: "This may seem a strange sight but some of the customs of modern Christmas and Scandinavian Jul hark back to a Viking winter feast.

"Thor, the Viking god of Thunder, was transported through the sky by a team of horned goats, a forerunning of Santa and his sleigh, and Odin, the most powerful of the Viking gods was credited with bringing gifts, much like our very own Father Christmas."

The Battle of Stamford Bridge and the Rout of Riccall of 1066 will be brought to life during the festival and, as a new focus for this year, the final week will feature new events exploring aspects of Scandinavian culture.

The public will also be able to cheer the Viking longships as they race along the Ouse.

The full programme is available by telephoning 01904 543403 or visit

Updated: 11:12 Friday, December 17, 2004