Old Bamber muses on Santa Claus and a couple of Nicholases…


Santa Stop Here
Santa Stop Here

Walking down Old Lane the other evening I came across a plaintive message: ‘Santa Stop Here’ and it started me thinking. Well, what passes in the Old Bamber brain for thinking.  Santa Claus, Father Christmas, St Nicholas – all seems a bit confusing…

If I’d expressed any interest in the origins of the ‘portly, joyous, white-bearded man—sometimes with  spectacles—wearing a red coat with white collar and cuffs, white-cuffed red trousers, and black leather belt and boots and who carries a bag full of gifts for children’ (thank you, Wikipedia) two things would have happened. My father would have told me some far-fetched tale while he sat almost horizontally in his chair, pipe in mouth, while I waited to see if a bit of burning tobacco would fall out and set fire to his pullover and then, when I declined the nonsense he told me, I would have been sent next door to consult the Encyclopedia Britannica. 

At 5B lived a family of seven in a three bedroomed Council flat, Mum, Dad, four children and Uncle Joe who was a distant relative of the mother. As a young teenager I puzzled over why the four of us next door lived in a five bedroomed house and the lack of fairness about that, particularly when I realised that the father (Nicholas) had been a teacher as my dad was. Nicholas was born in Poland and had been in a concentration camp in the war; I can remember being fascinated by the number stamped on his arm. His teaching qualification counted for nothing in Britain and he drove tube trains for a living.
He was very keen his children would be well informed and I can remember the multi (with a capital ‘M’ – they seemed endless) volume red-covered Encyclopedia Britannica, which sat on the shelves in their living room. I recall when studying for my ‘A’ levels I was struggling to read one of the more difficult American novels (William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury) Nicholas telling me in passing he had read it when stopped at stations in 2 minute chunks…
Now, of course we have the internet to research what we want so on my return from Old Lane I looked up Wikipedia, which has a very interesting article on ‘Santa Claus also known as  Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle…http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/santa_claus
St Nicholas (Wikipedia)
St Nicholas (Wikipedia)

This spring, while visiting friends, a three-year old girl took one look at me, hid behind her grandmother and asked her what Ho Ho was doing here… So, given I am a portly white bearded man with spectacles (scrap the joyous) I made my local debut as S. Claus this year and asked children whether they had been good and what they wanted for Christmas and after a couple of early encounters with tears (theirs not mine) managed the gig reasonably satisfactorily having carefully practised my ho, ho, hos.

My neighbour Nicholas would describe himself as a not very religious Catholic but would fast on Christmas Eve and have a spectacular Christmas Day, when my mother would find some excuse to go round and have an enormous vodka and lime (or two)…

Nicholas had a tough life. He survived a concentration camp only to see his eldest child die from cancer leaving her husband with young children. Nicholas died relatively young but I remember him and his family and the fun and joy there was in that flat particularly at Christmas and the pleasure that gave me.

St Nicholas was a fourth century Christian saint with a reputation for secret gift giving. Whatever you’re doing I hope you have a good day tomorrow and hope you have as much enjoyment in whatever you are giving as anything you receive.