Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

St Nicholas Comes to West Hampstead

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 5th December, 2010

When I lived in Belgium as a young man, the Feast of St Nicholas (6 December) was always a much bigger deal than Christmas Day (25 December). Children received presents on 6 December and too much was eaten and drunk. There is actually an overlap between the two celebrations,  as the Greek St Nicholas or Nikolaos of Myra in what is now Turkey was a great gift-giver, famous for slipping money into people’s shoes and other such acts of charity. He is of course the most likely origin of Santa Claus, or Father Christmas, who in British and some related mythology rides across the night sky on Christmas Eve in a reindeer-drawn sleigh, before going down chimneys to deliver presents which will await the children of the household the following morning. There are also echos of the Three Kings bearing gifts to the infant Jesus, as recounted in the Bible, though in Western Christianity the feast of the Magi is celebrated on the day of Epiphany, 6 January — exactly one month after St Nicholas Day. As a child I was told Christmas cards must come down on 6 January, otherwise the house would be cursed for the rest of the year. Anyway, all this is brought to my mind by a St Nicholas Eve celebration hosted by Ed Fordham, Russell Eagling and Nick Russell on behalf of West Hampstead Liberal Democrats this evening, in their festively decorated flat, at which a full buffet was served including mince pies and Stilton cheese. It is good that such traditions persist and I for one would be happy to see St Nicholas get his due in this country. I was saddened on my way home along Oxford Street, however, to see that the ‘Christmas Lights’ are all of parcelled presents and rather camp umbrellas — highlighting the commercial side of Christmas and ignoring the religious significance of the period entirely. At least England hasn’t yet gone the way of the United States and started promoting ‘Happy Holidays!’ as the only politically correct greeting in public places.

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One Response to “St Nicholas Comes to West Hampstead”

  1. John Oakes said

    Great party, too. Sorry to hear about Camden headteachers being so cravenly politicised…….

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