When we lived in Belgium, Saint Nicolas used to come on December 6 on his donkey and leave chocolate in children’s shoes. You had to leave out beer for Saint Nicolas and a carrot for the donkey. Then Santa came on December 25. Then, thanks to the kind intervention of our Italian upstairs neighbours, the Befana came on January 6 bearing sweets.
The first year we came back from Belgium, Saint Nicolas came to Ireland, Santa came, of course, and the Befana came too. Last year, only Saint Nicolas and Santa came. This year, in the context of the current economic climate, all having to tighten our belts etc, etc., only Santa was due to visit. And that was going fine until the Princess came home speaking about Black Peter – she had been learning about Christmas traditions in other countries at school. “But surely,” I said stupidly, “you remember Père Fouettard.”
Her little face lit up, “Oh yes, when is Saint Nicolas coming?” Again, slightly caught on the hop, I said, “Oh, he comes on the 6th and that’s long gone, he’s not coming this year, I’d say Santa’s taking over his duties.” There was much weeping and wailing. Then the Princess looked at me shrewdly and said, “When does the Befana come?” I see the Befana making a comeback in this jurisdiction.
The Princess, is proving slightly trying in the matter of Santa more generally. Sample question delivered in front of her brothers: If there is no Tooth Fairy and no Easter Bunny, how do you know there’s a Santa? I see dangerous shoals ahead. Next year I am looking forward to questions on the nativity.
And finally in this rather miscellaneous category: it is the time of year for infant classes to put on nativity plays. We have two shepherds in our house (am very envious of colleague with 4 children who counts a Joseph and a Mary among their number). Religion can be faulted on many grounds but certainly the selection of music available for Christmas is not one of them. Some of the most beautiful songs are Christmas carols. Why is it then that children always end up singing the rather dreary “Away in a Manger”? Furthermore, our lads have also added to their repertoire the classic “Hosanna rock, hosanna roll” which sounds pretty much as you might imagine. I suppose if I continue in this strain, it is only a matter of time before I begin campaigning to restore the Latin mass.