December seemed to creep up on us extremely quickly this year, with temperatures and brisk winds acting as Christmas itself shaking our hands by giving us the shivers.
Halloween had just finished and before we knew it those pumpkins were being replaced by Christmas lights. Now, in the centre of Ilford, a tall majestic tree stands beaming ever so brightly with ornate decorations that shimmer and dazzle. But along with the beautiful decorations comes a certain character that would often fill my childhood with glee. The jolly man in red, with a white beard and spreading cheer wherever he goes – of course, I’m referring to none other than Father Christmas himself.
Santa, Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas; he goes by many names due to the huge history that has created his legacy around the world. Back in the times of the Ancient Greeks, Saint Nicholas was well known for giving to the poor. His history has led him all around the world, enough for him to earn the title of patron saint of both Amsterdam and Moscow. In Belgium and the Netherlands he is known as “The Christmas Man” and “Father Christmas” in France. The evolution of Santa, and how various cultures around the world celebrate Christmas is different everywhere you go.
Did you know Santa didn’t always wear red? He was once pictured as a man in a green winter coat. And instead of his origins as a Bishop, he was often painted as a sailor instead. He had also been seen, for example, in 1863 to be wearing an American Flag. It seemed that Saint Nicholas at this point had evolved from an ancient holy figure to being used in propaganda and was changed even more when he became more commercialised and stepped into the limelight. Authors would have their say on his wife and his flying reindeer – putting him in popular films and even on the famous Coca-Cola truck. Santa Claus has been immortalised in songs, books, films, plays and more. He became jolly Saint Nick as we know him today.
And thus began our rituals. I for one, enjoy watching the young kids wait patiently and on their best behaviour, like I used to when I was young. Putting out cookies the night before Christmas, waiting for him to come down that chimney with a huge sack of presents hauled over his shoulder. One resolute message has carried throughout the years; you have to be nice to receive a gift from Santa!
There is nothing I love more than the festive atmosphere that he brings along with him. I love walking the streets at night, soaking in the stunning decorations and hearing the street-Santa’s holler as they ring their large golden bells – chanting ‘Merry Christmas’ and spreading the cheer to passers-by. And of course, the best sight in the world is to see the eyes of a child light up with joy the second they see Santa.
Fun fact: The first retail Christmas Grotto was set up in JP Robert’s store in Stratford, London in December 1888.
Christmas in town wouldn’t be complete without Santa’s grotto – a wonderfully decorated place for kids to experience the magic of Christmas. As Redbridge Central Library did last year, they are working on creating a vibrant set up for Santa and his elves, for everyone to enjoy. Lights, decorations, presents and festive fun are bound to be had.
So why not experience that joy for yourself? Head down to Redbridge Central Library this December to visit Santa in his grotto and receive a present, if you’ve been nice. But be sure to book in advance. While you’re in the library why not look up the history of Santa and be as fascinated as I am by a single man who brings the world such joy.
Book your place here.
Post author: Priya Devandran