I knew it was a special day when my mother bundled me up in my best coat and hat, and announced we were going to town. I enjoyed riding on the blue trolleybuses, looking out of the window seeing cars and tall buildings whizzing by. Town was always busy and crowded; getting lost was a scary notion, because like my mother and father I spoke differently to other people, and it was all very puzzling.
Today however, we were all going to town and not only that – we were going in the dark. It was evening time, after supper and instead of taking me to bed, my mother was wrapping me up against the winter cold. The ride in the bus was all too short. Headlights on cars and brightly lit shop displays through a misty bus window were thrilling for me. It was the first time I ever remembered seeing such things. We got out at St Patrick’s Church, but didn’t go in. Instead, my father led us to a hall at the side, which to my surprise was crowded with people who knew my parents. I noticed lots of other children too, and my excitement grew as we all took seats in front of a large stage, draped with black curtains.
Then the magic started. The lights went down and curtains opened to reveal a mountain snow scene with a small wooden house and children dressed in embroidered costumes. A story unfolded of boys stacking firewood and complaining, until a black imp came along and persuaded them to have a snowball fight instead. He was very naughty and hid when their angry father came out, to wag his finger at them. The boys resumed working and the imp tried to tempt them again, to disobey their father and play. The boys continued stacking logs, and then the strangest thing happened. A tall man, dressed in priestly robes, with long hair and a lovely smile came into the scene. He was accompanied by a beautiful angel and asked if they were good or naughty children.
The imp appeared and shouted ‘They are naughty Lord, very naughty!’
But the tall man waved his golden crozier at the imp to make him run away. The boys, received a large gift each. My father told me this was St Nicholas and he gave all good children a present – today!
The stage show finished with singing, before the curtains closed. St Nicholas then came forward and sat on a gilded throne. Angels dragged a huge sled forward, overspilling with parcels wrapped in coloured paper each with a name on them; and everyone, including me, waited nervously hoping their name would be called, to receive a gift.
The black imp ran around us, whispering to children to stay away, and do bad things, but the angels had long birch twigs, with which to shoo him away. The parcels in the sled were given out, as I waited, occasionally looking at my mother. She squeezed my hand and smiled – until at last, I heard my name.
The black imp was crouched nearby, crooking his finger to me to come, but I was very brave and turned away, almost tripping in haste as I walked up to St Nicholas. He smiled kindly and handed me a huge present in blue paper with little fir trees on it. I was in awe.
Years later in school, we talked about Father Christmas coming down the chimney with gifts. I said I got my gifts from St Nicholas himself on the 19th December. The others laughed and didn’t believe me, but I insisted. I know every year St Nicholas comes to Bradford, with a sleigh and his angels… because I was there.
Image: from Catholic Online