12 December 2018, The Tablet

The Christian way to show kids that Santa Claus is real. Because he was.


One of the great things about The Nutcracker – the one at the London Coliseum, is fabulous – is that it brings St Nicholas centre stage, literally and actually. The bishop saint is the centre of the festivities that kick off the ballet, as he was in Tchaikovsky’s day, and brings the presents for the children. He blesses the gathering and leaves them to party. He is, obviously, Santa Claus, as the dimmest of us can discern from the name, only his episcopal character hasn’t been compromised by passage through America and he still sanctifies the festivities.

In fact, I never really had any problem dealing with the Father Christmas issue with my children precisely because I identified Santa with St Nicholas, who obviously existed – in fact, I visited his very shrine in Bari, which is anything but Christmassy (they are missing a trick at the cathedral there, though how you would market Santa’s Tomb is a tricky one). And the miracles – notably raising the little boys who were murdered and put in a pickle barrel and throwing bags of gold through the windows of the girls who were too poor to be respectably married – are both good … the bags of gold easily transmogrify into chocolate money.

But the point about the presence of St Nicholas – associated with the medieval mock liturgies for the Boy Bishop – is that he reminds us that Christmas isn’t only about Christ, though the Nativity of the Lord is the point of the season. There’s a cluster of feasts for the Twelve Days and Advent; it’s an entire festive season.

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