A true Christmas story

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By Seb Kirby

Here is a true story that took place on a snowy night some years ago….

It’s Christmas Eve. My son Ben is 5, soon to be 6. He still believes in Father Christmas. I’ve convinced myself that the time has come to tell him ‘the truth.’

Harsh, you might think. But for the best. It’s not going to be much good if he goes on believing when all his school chums know ‘the truth’. They could end up thinking he’s a wimp. And I’m recalling the quandary I was in when I was Ben’s age when one of the kids in the street had taken delight in telling me ‘the truth’. I wanted to spare him that.

So, I’m standing next to Ben and we’re looking out of the window, out onto the street from the little terraced house in Swansea, South Wales. It’s snowing; one of those rare white Christmas things. And I’ve plucked up the courage to tell him.

‘You see, Ben, there is no Father Christmas. It’s just something grown-ups invent…..’

Ben’s not saying a thing. I’m beginning to think that I’m doing this well. But something has caught his attention further down the street.

Just then, right on cue, Father Christmas comes walking along, picking his way through the ankle deep snow. Dragging a small sleigh with a big white bag full of presents on it. As he comes closer, he sees us at the window and gives a wave and a cheery smile. I wave back.

Ben still says nothing. He’s a thinking child and he’s trying to weigh this up. Dad’s saying there’s no such thing as Father Christmas. Father Christmas has just come walking up the street dragging his sleigh and has just waved and given a cheery smile. Dad has waved back. Finally, Ben waves back and just says, ‘OK, Dad.’

The guy who’s just walked past is Brian, a teacher friend of the two girls who are our next door neighbours. He’s volunteered again this year to be Santa at the local primary school, just round the corner. He’s good at it. He has the full red and white Santa suit, portly gait and believable white beard. And the sleigh and the big bag of presents. I’m rubbing my eyes as he braves the steps to the house next door. He’s come to wish the girls a Merry Christmas in his usual exuberant way. I don’t know him well but I’ve spoken to him a few times, enough to give him a wave.

That was the best part of  forty years ago. I don’t think that Ben has ever wholly believed a word I’ve had to say since that day. How could you blame him? A lesson for us both in truth and reality, perhaps.

And the proof, if proof was ever needed, that you shouldn’t listen to anyone who tells you that Father Christmas doesn’t exist.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thanks to all those who’ve taken an interest in my writing during the year……

Seb Kirby

was literally raised with books – his grandfather ran a mobile library in Birmingham, UK and his parents inherited a random selection of the books. Once he discovered a trove of well-used titles from Zane Gray’s Riders of the Purple Sage, HG Wells’ The Invisible Man and Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities to more obscure stuff, he was hooked.

He’s been an avid reader ever since.

Other inspirations include Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis and The Trial, George Orwell 1984 and Animal Farm, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, Boris Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago, Arthur Koestler’s Darkness At Noon, Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov, Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley …

He is author of the James Blake thriller series, Take No More, Regret No More and Forgive No More, which were recently republished by Canelo; the science-fiction thriller, Double BindEach Day I Wake; and Sugar for Sugar. His latest book is another psychological thriller, Here the Truth Lies.

Seb can be found:

BestSelling Reads author page  |   Amazon  |    Facebook   |   Twitter   |    Goodreads   |   LinkedIn   |    Website & blog 

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Monday Musings: Writing My Way Back Home

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Belsnickel

I grew up in a relatively small, rural town in the Allegheny Highlands of Pennsylvania and, like a lot of kids, I dreamed about getting away—far, far away. My town was founded by immigrants from Bavaria and three of my four grandparents came from Bavarian stock. The town was filled with traditions—from food and music to local customs that I took for granted. Then I moved away and found out there were people who never even heard of sultz (a pickled meat) and maultaschen (German ravioli) and Belsnickel (a Bavarian folk figure)—imagine my surprise!

For years, as I moved around the country, living in cities from Texas to Maine, I didn’t think much about my background. I still made pork and sauerkraut every New Year’s Day and sometimes visited my family to enjoy my mother’s Pennsylvania Dutch cooking but there was a part of me that thought the traditions of my heritage were a little bit embarrassing.

In 2003 I began writing and in 2006 I published my first book. As the digital book market grew my book sales increased and by 2011 I had twelve books out and was making a decent income from them. One day a friend said, “Have you ever written a Christmas story?” I hadn’t but that evening I started thinking about my hometown’s tradition of Belsnickel. Every year, from the time I was a child, on December 6th, the Feast of Saint Nicholas, Belsnickel visited the children of our town. He was a fearsome fellow in long robes with a huge beard who carried a sack over his shoulder. He would come to our houses and tell us to say our prayers. Then he would empty his sack on the floor—candy, popcorn balls, and tangerines rolled all over the place and we scurried around like mice gathering them up.

The more I thought about Belsnickel the more I wanted to write about this tradition. I set to work and within a few weeks I had pounded out a sweet, charming story about a small Pennsylvania Dutch town called Marienstadt filled with quirky characters. One of the characters was a reclusive man named Oliver Eberstark who lived in the woods and kept to himself. His boyhood friend, the local priest, talks him into playing Belsnickel for the town’s children and, in the process of doing this we learn the secret of Oliver’s past and how his friends are able to help him heal. I called the story The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt’s Wood and when it was published for Kindle it did surprisingly well.

What astonished me was how many people wrote and said they loved Marienstadt. They loved the Pennsylvania Dutch folklore and they hoped I’d write more about it. Nothing could have surprised me more! My heritage—a heritage I’d found uninspiring—intrigued people. In fact some people found it enchanting.

So I started writing more. All my life I’d heard family members sit around over beer and sultz sandwiches (on rye bread with lots of onions and mustard), telling tales about hunting, and secrets, and coming from the old country. I began probing my memory for these stories and writing them down using every tradition, custom, and recipe I could remember. I wrote about the local elk herd, quilting bees, keuchel-making parties, marauding bears, and ghost stories, too.

The result was The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall: Secrets of Marienstadt. People said they loved it.

My hometown newspaper wrote an article about me. It won an award. I was stunned—after over thirty years of running away from my heritage, writing about it was making my readers ask for
more.

Last week I published my most recent Marienstadt story, The Christmas Daughter, and already I’m receiving emails saying, “Write another one.” I am gob-smacked. Thomas Wolfe famously said, “You can’t go home again.” But for me going home in stories has been beautiful and astonishing—and more than a little humbling.

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