By Halliday Sutherland
XTULETIDE in Engiand begins I in the middle of November, when Father Christmas arrives at the great emporiums. Pantomimes, which replaced the Nativity Plays of Catholic England, begin on the •Feast of St. Stephen. In large provincial cities like Birmingham they continue until the middle of March. No wonder the poet sang. "Oh to be in England where Christmas lasts so long!"
In BIackstone's Laws of England we read : "The Queen is present in all her Courts." This means that Her Majesty is metaphorically present in every Court of Justice; whereas Father Christmas is corporeally and simultaneously present in all the large emporiums. At times this may be disconcerting, as witness a conversation overheard at Belfridge's between a Cockney boy, aged six, and Father Christmas; "I wants an airplane for Christmas."
"Yes, sonny, that's what you say every time you come here. But I won't forget. You see, I've got a very good memory."
"No. You ain't got a good memory. Not 'alf. When I see'd you yesterday in the shop across the road, you said as 'ow you'd never see'd me afore."
A T the age of six I also was 1–Icritical about the big fat man with the long white beard, fur cap, red robe and Russian boots. He made toys in Lapland, where he spent most of the year. On Christmas Eve he filled a large sack with presents and seated himself in his sledge. A reindeer pulled the sledge up to the clouds and brought it down safely on the housetops of Britain. With snow on the roof, this was well within the bounds of possibility. Suspicion was aroused when the sledge was reported to have landed on a roof devoid of snow. That was beyond the bounds of possibility.
From the roof this benevolent friend came down the chimney and filled the large stockings we had borrowed from our elders. Yet when some intelligent child drew attention to the disparity between the diameter of the chimney and the girth ot. the man, we were told that sometimes he entered the house by the front door. In that event his sledge would have been seen in the street. It never was. Moreover, we were told that throughout the year he listened to the tittletattle of nurses and others concerning the conduct of children. That was not to his credit.
TN later life, when I ought to 'have known better, I was once induced in a moment of weakness to impersonate this preposterous character. On that occasion my appearance at a children's party caused a most deplorable outburst of mass infantile hysteria. It began when a little girl in a white frilly muslin frock, screamed in terror and shouted, "It's God!" Others joined in the screaming. which soon reached such a pitch that one misguided neighbour, imagining the Christmas tree to be ablaze; summoned the fire brigade. Another telephoned to the N.S.P.C.C., and a third fetched the police. The appearance of two uniformed constables increased the pandemonium; but these officers enabled me to escape from what a Sunday
paper called The House of Screams. In the belief that I was under arrest, a large and hostile crowd in the street made way for us, and no missiles were thrown. But there was much booing, and from colour-blind nitwits, who mistook red for purple, came shouts of "No Popery l"
After that experience I decided to investigate the antecedents of one who had now become a public menace. This entailed much travel and great expense. From neither did 1 shrink.
IN Lapland Journey I have writ-I-ten of the snow, the cold, the silence, the reindeer and the Laps. In that strange land I saw the phantasmagoria of an enchanted forest; but never did I meet anyone who had ever heard of Father Christmas and his toy factory. He is also unknown in Finland. There it is St. Nicolas who, early in December, goes around in a sledge pulled, not by a reindeer, but by a goat. On the Mesa, or high table-land, in the centre of Spain there is plenty of snow in the winter. This would be a perfect landing place for an airborne sledge. Yet even there Father Christmas is unknown. On the eve of the Feast of Epiphany, January 6, Spanish children place their shoes outside the bedroom door, or on the window sill or on the balcony. In the morning the shoes contain presents. These come from the Magi. To the children this seems very natural because they know that the three wise Kings from the East were the first to bring presents to the Child at Bethlehem.
At Palma, Majorca, the children blow horns to summon the Kings from the East. The horns are made from large spiral shells found on the sea shore. From Christmas to the Feast of the Epiphany these horns are blown all day, and even at night when a child happens to be awake. On January 6 the three Kings, each wearing a golden crown, drive through the town in a gorgeous coach. At many houses the coach stops, and the Kings deliver parcels addressed to the children who live there. Unbeknown to the children and prior to the arrival of the Kings, these parcels have been left by their parents at the TOVID Halt.
IN North Germany I was inter-tested in what I heard concerning a man named Rupert, who once lived there. Wearing a mask, a flaxen wig, a white robe and buckskins, he used to visit Protestant families on Christmas evening. On entering the house he would say: "Jesus Christ, my Master, sent me here." After that salutation Rupert was cordially welcomed by parents and the older children. The younger children were scared stiff. And no wonder, for the uncouth creature had come to inquire about their conduct over the past twelve months. When parents gave a good report Rupert gave the child a small present which he produced from a pocket in his white robe. When the report was unsatisfactory, Rupert handed a birch rod to the parents and quoted the proverb: "Spare the rod, spoil the child." A right merry Christmas, forsooth!
In course of time Rupert disappeared from North Germany. His whereabouts were unknown, but there was nothing to connect him with Father Christmas. Rupert had shown no interest in those beautiful German Christmas trees which later on Queen Charlotte brought to England. Nor had he anything to do with the filling of stockings. In Germany stockings and shoes are set out on the Eve of the Feast of St. Nicolas, who is the patron saint of children. young women, students and sailors. His feast is on December 6, and it is Good Saint Nicolas who fills these shoes and stockings.
He is also the patron saint of Russia, and the peace of the world would be assured if he were granted a visa to that country.
AT Pittsburg, in the State of Pennsylvania, I learnt that the early settlers from North Germany had been accompanied by a character known as Kirsh-kindle. The name is a corruption of Christkinlein, which means the Infant Christ. It was Kirsh-kindle who began the chimney business in Pennsylvania. On Christmas Eve he came down the chimneys of rooms in which children had been incited to hang up stockings.
In the morning some stockings were full of presents, but in others there was nothing except a birch rod. It is easier for a man to change his name than his character. These birch rods revealed the truth. The leopard cannot change his spots and, as the
reader will have spotted, Kirsh
kindle was none other than the missing Rupert.
Questioned by the Pittsburg Sheriff, to whom many children had complained, Rupert, alias Kirshkindle, denied being responsible for the birch rods. He admitted leaving some stockings empty. This he had ,clone "on information received from reliable sources." He then declared that after he, Rupert, had left the premises, a character who he knew as Pels-nicol had descended the chimney and inserted a birch rod into each empty stocking.
Here Rupert revealed his malicious nature, for Pels-nicol is a contraction of Nicolas-in-Furs. Thus did the miserable wretch seek to implicate Good Saint Nicolas. The Sheriff, who at this time was more concerned about bank robbers, horse thieves. gamblers, rustlers and Red Indians, advised Rupert to go while the going was good; otherwise he would be charged with witchcraft.
pROM Pennsylvania Rupert re turned to Germany, where he obtained the post of ChimneySweeper to the late lamented Prince Albert. With the Prince's entourage he came to England. Here he resumed his Christmas antics, but very wisely abandoned the birch rods.
At first he called himself Santa Claus, but soon discovered that most Britons were hostile to saints, even to bogus saints. Having convinced the Protestant Alliance that he was not even a priest, Rupert called himself Father Christmas. In that name he is now on the pay-roll of Big Business. A sorry story of fraud and deceit crowned with success.
Nevertheless, before any competent tribunal I would charge Rupert,alias Kirsh-kindle, alias Santa Claus, alias Father Christmas, with subversive activities against the Christian religion. As witnesses for the prosecution I could call more than half the nation.
Everyone has heard about Christmas; but more than 54 per cent. of people in Britain do not know what the word Christmas means. And when you tell them that Christmas means Christ's Mass, they reply in unfeigned surprise : "Y' don't say I"