Four books starring Father Christmas

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Image: Pixabay

We’re over halfway through our Advent calendar. My kitchen is filling up with nuts – roasted monkeys, salted and dry roasted peanuts, in their shells sheathed in a nylon net …

I know these last can be a pain, that all family members are likely to visit the local hospital some time before the New Year due to injuries from ricochetting almond splinters. But I’ve tried buying the pre-shelled variety and they’re not as much fun. Perhaps it’s that tiny spark of triumph felt when, through sheer brute force, you finally reach that ounce of nutflesh – and without losing a finger.

Anyway half-eaten calendars and nuts equal only one thing – Christmas is nearly upon us.

Working in retail, this means I’ll be in the shop right up until the last day and will no doubt spend Christmas Day half asleep and with my feet up. 

But to steer us all through the next week of fighting septagenarians for the last box of crackers / bag of cranberries / sage, chestnut and onion-stuffed pork and bacon crown (with port wine coulis), I have complied – for a festive Wednesday Word Tangle – a short list of books where dear old

FATHER CHRISTMAS

has a starring role …

 Father Christmas – Raymond Briggs

 

Although Briggs is better known for his story, The Snowman (‘we’re walking in the aaaaaiiir’), this is another great book, a kids’ cartoon from the 1970s  which depicts Father Christmas being bit of a curmudgeon, cussing his way through Christmas deliveries, negotiating cats, TV aerials and milkmen before coming home to a lone turkey dinner.

He’s a boozer, he loves his pipe and takes a hot water bottle to bed with him.

Father Christmas IS an Englishman.

 

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe – C.S.Lewis

You can’t get more Christmassy than this book.

In a snowbound, magical land filled with dwarves and fauns and talking beavers – a land where it is ‘Always winter but never Christmas’ – a tall, gowned figure driving a sleigh appears …

Father Christmass’s visit to the Pevenseys in TLTWATW is bittersweet. Yes, it means that thanks to Aslan, the festive season can finally arrive, the snows begin to melt.

But the fact the old man brings weaponry and a potion that can cure any injury as presents FOR CHILDREN suggests there will be no watching the Queen’s speech and hammering each other at Monopoly this year.

 

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

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It’s a bit of a cheat, this one, because you won’t find Father Christmas listed in the dramatis personae of Carol

BUT if you read the description of the Ghost of Christmas Present and see John Leech‘s original illustrations (above), the similarities are pretty obvious.

‘Present’ is a giant, clad in a green, fur-trimmed coat (Father Christmas was often depicted in green before the late 19th C), a holly wreath about his head, shimmering with icicles. He’s full of joy and love for the season, surrounded by food, drink and goodwill that he wants to share with a bemused Scrooge.

He’s more pagan Green Man than Coke marketing icon, but none the worse for that.

 

 

A Visit from St. Nicholas – Clement C. Moore

Not strictly that drunken bon viveur, Father Christmas, rather St. Nicholas.

It’s thanks to Moore we know what Nick’s reindeer are called (though Rudolph was clearly off sick in 1823 as he is obvious by his absence). And the fact that those reindeer are tiny – as is Nick himself. It would explain why it’s so easy for him to get down chimneys, but how many of us actually imagine him as small as he’s described in the poem?

I was struggling to find a lovely version on Youtube. Dick van Dyke nearly made it on here. Then I found this mildly unsettling puppet show (above) from the 50s or 60s to totally creep you out. Enjoy!

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What stories featuring Father Christmas / Pere Noel / Santa / Sintaklaas are your favourites? Do share them here.

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Thanks to Kat, the founder of W4W

Books in the Blood #3 The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

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I’ve always loved fantasy.

I don’t just mean sword and sorcery, Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. What I really love is when fantasy and reality weave together so you don’t know where the frozen fish aisle in Asda ends and the Yellow Brick Road to Oz begins.

I never wanted to read books based in the real world, unless they’re set at least a hundred years ago and everyone in it was wearing breeches or petticoats and either giggling behind fans or pooing in the street.

If you have the patience to stick with this thread – and I’ll endeavour to make it entertaining enough that you will – you’ll see what I yearned for most as a kid was ESCAPISM*. When I was young, the Berlin Wall was still up, the Cold War was still many degrees below zero and nuclear threat was very much a real and present danger.

I remember the delightful Protect and Survive pamphlet plopping through our letterbox, a piece of light reading that shared the comforting knowledge that you can make a bomb shelter from one of your interior doors. If I remember, you had to prop the door against the wall to form a prism-shaped cavity to hide in – wood panelling and gloss paint being renowned protection against a nuclear blast and subsequent fallout.

From Sting’s Russians, Frankie’s Two Tribes and Raymond Briggs’ wonderfully terrifying When the Wind Blows, nuclear Armageddon seeped into popular culture as a kind of morbid entertainment, there to distract us all from the horrors of jelly-bean shoes and Kajagoogoo. I was convinced I wouldn’t make it out of my teens before my hair and teeth were dropping out from radiation sickness whilst the Queen and Margaret Thatcher ate tinned peaches and played backgammon in their bunker under Whitehall.

The worst for me was Threads (think a typically pessimistic English version of The Day After), a TV programme based around a nuclear strike on Sheffield. The theory was that the Russians, overcome with jealousy over the northern town’s steel making heritage, wanted to finish off Sean Bean before he could wear a breastplate and cut through Orcs with his Yorkshire accent (I know, he killed them with his sword, not his accent, but he’s a talented guy, I bet he could if he tried).

Okay, you got me, the Russians in the film were supposedly aiming for a NATO base, not a young Sean Bean, but the fallout was the same. The programme showed Sheffield turned to a wasteland and the people of Buxton in Derbyshire (where I lived at the time) dying slowly, horribly, starving to death as bits of them rotted and fell off.

Is it any wonder I retreated into fantasy?

One book in the genre that I loved was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S.Lewis.

Filled with fauns, talking lions, Turkish delight and Ice Queens, it ticked every magical box for me. A wondrous Otherworld you can reach just by walking into a wardrobe? Check. A snow-covered landscape where it’s always winter but never Christmas? Check. Mythical creatures that serve afternoon tea and cake before crackling open fires? Check. It was every plump daydreamer’s idyll.

Years later, I’d feel cheated when I discovered Aslan and his journey from freedom fighter through self-sacrificial hero to resurrected figurehead was a way to teach the story of Christ to young children (I like my magic pagan) but you can’t deny the strength of Lewis’s imagination and his storytelling powers.


*Environmental catastrophe, austerity, religious extremism, global terrorism. . . Thank goodness for George R.R. Martin’s Westeros – a modern day Narnia and Great Escape.