What to call Father Christmas

Does Father Christmas have a first name? I suspect that depends on who you are, or which Father Christmas figure you subscribe to.

I read Tony Bradman’s glowing review of Matt Haig’s A Boy Called Christmas in the Guardian. Not having received a copy of the book, it wasn’t one I’d imagined I’d be reading. But I was pleased Tony liked it so much.

What struck me was the character in Matt’s book, who apparently is called Nikolas, and lives in Finland. It’s easy to see that the step to him becoming Saint Nicholas aka Santa Claus is a fairly short one. And I assume the name Nikolas was intended as a clue.

It would be to me now, as it probably will be to English language readers in general. But he isn’t always called Nick something. Not everywhere.

I have no idea what he is called in Finland; either in his Christmas role or in private. But in Sweden he doesn’t have a name. Or if he does, we don’t use it, and we wouldn’t call him Niklas, or even Klas.

He is Jultomten. So really Yule-something or other. I can never decide what tomte is best translated as. He’s a blend of all the little helpers you have around the home. Elf. Brownie. Those sort of creatures.

I could be wrong, but there is very little that’s religious about Jultomten. He simply gives us the things we wish for anyway. All in return for some porridge. No alcohol. No mince pie. After all, what is a mince pie?

It’s hard to work out that your norm is not someone else’s. That they might not have your norm at all, even in a lesser form. No Niklas. No pie. Not even a carrot for the reindeer.

What’s more, we don’t lie to our children. We/they know he’s not real, but that doesn’t stop the fun. The child knows, as much as a child can know these things, that the gift was from his/her parents, an aunt, a brother, a neighbour, or their best friend. That doesn’t make Christmas or Jultomten or the giving any less special.

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