Merry Christmas everybody! Here’s speculative fiction author Stephen Palmer to offer some thoughts on changing attitudes to the season…
There is no Santa Claus, it’s your parents…
How old was I when I learned this? My parents moved to the house I spent most of my childhood in when I was six, and in that house, for a few years anyway, I did believe. So maybe I was seven, eight or nine when the truth revealed itself.
The name Santa Claus derives from the Dutch name Sinter Klaas, an abbreviated form of Sint Nikolaas, i.e. Saint Nicholas. In Monique Orphan, the first volume of my Conjuror Girl trilogy, Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of the orphanage in which our heroine Monique finds herself. As she explains to a new orphan, Dora:
“Remember who is the patron of the orphanage, Dora.”
Monique nodded. “He was known as the Wonderworker. Haven’t you seen the statue we have of him in the hall downstairs? It says, Nikólaus Thaumaturgós, which is a foreign language for St Nicholas the Wonderworker. He was able to do all sorts of miraculous things. And perhaps he will this year too.”
“For you. He is the protector of merchants, sailors and students, but particularly of children. He’ll sympathise with you, like I have, and he’ll make you a special gift. It’s his way.”
One of the themes of this trilogy is the plight of our country’s children in past times, a situation which alas extends into our own times. Monique is stuck in the grim, gloomy Shrobbesbury Orphanage, but she is no shrinking violet, and she has two close friends to help her when it is discovered that she has a talent only men are supposed to wield… albeit that she doesn’t seem able to control it.
Her life revolves around the Catholic points of the year: St Nicholas’ Day on 6th December, Christmas Day, St Stephen’s Day, the feast day of St John the Evangelist, Childermas (Holy Innocents’ Day), Epiphany, and on into the year. I thought it was apt that Saint Nicholas would be the patron of the orphanage, given his protective role for children.
We have twelve days of Christmas and their associated revelries and traditions for various reasons, many of them reaching back into pre-Christian thought and cultural belief, some of them bolt-ons from elsewhere, some of them Christian in origin.
The twelve days are the great sigh of relief at the end of the year, when, after the deep dark of the solstice, and at the end of twelve months of preparing the land, sowing, caring for it and reaping, some relaxation and indulgence can be enjoyed. For people living on the land – the great majority of the British population until quite recently – the twelve days of Christmas were a time to enjoy luxuries.
Alas, in the orphanage, luxuries are unavailable:
The presents were pitiful. In the dining hall Mr Proderick gave them a gap-toothed smile as he welcomed them in and, making great play of choosing from the tea chest at his side, brought out one item of fruit: a pear, an orange, a tangerine.
“Merry Christmas to yer, me pretty,” he said as he handed Monique a small orange object. Monique glanced down to see upon it a dark patch and the first hint of blue mould.
The last sixty years of Western life have been a bloated worship of corporate consumption in which giving a tangerine would be an insult. But this is relative. We have given our millions of gifts by spending the resources of the planet we live on.
So I wish all of you reading this guest post a happy twelve-day festival of a different sort: a reverie for what we have done, a time of peace and tranquility, yes; but at heart a time of reflection on the unlearned lessons of the past. For some people, a tangerine would be an unexpected pleasure.
Christmas is decked in red and green. Let’s accentuate the green.
Monique Orphan is available to buy HERE