Our meeting on 19th November was well attended with 26 members and visitors present. Following the usual announcements, the branch settled back to hear our speaker for the evening, Mr. Roger Morgan, who had entitled his talk, ‘Being Father Christmas’.
Mr Morgan (Roger) started by comparing Shakespeare’s SEVEN age of man to, in his view, the THREE ages in the Father Christmas saga. These being the belief in Father Christmas and then the disbelief in Father Christmas and finally actually being Father Christmas.
Roger then led us through the story of Father Christmas from the mid Winter festivals common in the dark and dismal pagan Europe. Following the Roman acceptance of Christianity, in the early centuries AD, the 25th December became an important date in the Christian calendar.
But where was Father Christmas at this time? In 270AD, a child Nicholas was born to a merchant family, the parents in their 40’s and by then despairing of a son. His uncle was a bishop and it seemed Nickolas’ future lay within the church. This was not in Nicholas’ thinking and at an early age he set sail for the Holy Land managing on the way to calm a fierce storm that threatened the ship. The city of Myra at that time was in need of a bishop and with the practice of appointing a young man and having landed there, Nicholas was given the job (well he was a precocious child). This then was the start of the Father Christmas legend as Nicholas was a generous man and repeatedly helped those in need in his flock. A tale of him helping a poor man with three daughters by dropping three bags of gold down their chimney, landing in three stockings, may have led to the belief Father Christmas enters homes by this method.
On his death he was sanctified and his body was kept in the city, where miracles were performed, leading to a decision to remove his bones to Italy. A ship was sent from each of the cities of Venice, Tranni and Bari in Southern Italy to collect the bones. Arriving at Myra together, a storm kept the ships in harbor until the bones were placed in the ship from Bari upon which the storm ended. A popular Christmas carol has ‘three ships sailing’ though Roger suggested these were ships of the desert. Many miraculous events were attributed to Saint Nicholas and on his birthday the 6th December, manna in the form of water welled up from his resting place. Analysis of the water has shown it to be pure spring water.
The character, Saint Nicholas, throughout the following years, usually appeared clothed in brown material until the Victorian period when this changed to many other colours with the familiar red costume becoming accepted as it was the cheapest material. The celebrating of Father Christmas took a knock in Puritan times when Oliver Cromwell passed a law stopping the consumption of mince pies on 25th December, a law that has not apparently been repealed. In the USA, St Nicholas is known as Santa Claus taken from the Dutch spelling of Father Christmas.
Roger himself is a volunteer Father Christmas and has appeared as such venues as Caerphilly Castle, Castell Coch and Cardiff City Hall amongst others. He revealed a number of anecdotes of his time as Father Christmas causing much laughter in some, such as when he was trapped between a reindeer and a donkey which had taken a dislike to each other and sadness when asking two young boys ‘what would you like for Christmas’ he was told ‘make mammy well’ which brought a tear to many of his audience.
This talk by Roger Morgan can only be described as exceptional and he richly deserved the applause at the end.