In 2022 I was commissioned by BBC Radio 4 to present an Archive on 4 series about the pome A Visit From St Nicholas, you know, the one that starts Twas the night before Christmas. I presented sixty minutes of Santa-related radio from the archives and conducted a few interviews of my own as I tried to work out how best to write my own version of the famous yule tide rhyme. You can have a listen to the show here, and read my poem below.
The Night Before Christmas
Twas the night before Christmas, the pavements were slush
the giggling of children had faded to hush
the thrill of tomorrow now outdone by sleep
they wandered a wonderland tangled in sheets.
The turkey was soaking, the presents were bowed
and stacked round the tree, the final log glowed
but in spite of my fire, the downstairs felt cold
and sitting in silence I began to feel old.
I remembered the joy from when I was kid
how the magic was sprinkled on all that we did
on the best of all days, when we woke up to see
Father Christmas had been, and he’d left some for me.
Oh how I remembered the glee and the warm,
the safety of family, the presents at dawn.
Now the pressure I felt to get everything right
weighed heavy on me on that drear Winter’s night.
It seemed silly, just crazy, that He might arrive
and glug down the milk that we’d left on the side.
The damp chill of adulthood set in my bone
so I drank Santa’s milk and crept upstairs alone.
But as I was fumbling around in the dark
a whoosh from the sky made the neighbours dog bark
then a bark of a fox and a thwack on my bin
and a muffle of curses rang out like a hymn.
So I rushed to the window and pulled back the net
on a sight so astounding I’ll never forget it
for filling the yard with the spades and the rakes
with the hiss of a steam train releasing it’s brakes
was a sleigh stacked with brown sacks just sitting there
and the glint of ink eyes and the breath in the air
of twelve reindeer, so large and so noble and near
that I trembled with something that wasn’t quite fear.
Then a thud from downstairs and our cat’s mighty wail
as if someone quite heavy had trod on her tail
so I tore down the staircase, three steps at a trot
charged into the front room and screeched to a stop.
Now I’m a big fellow but there by the door
was someone who made me feel tiny once more
Father Christmas as I’d known him as a child
the boots and the belly, he winked then he smiled
and I knew that although he was my Father Christmas
if you had met him, then he would have been different.
He waggled his finger and stifled a laugh
when I glimpsed in the mirror my milky moustache.
He put down his sack and crossed over to me
he smelt of the outside, the cold and the trees
put his hand on my arm, as a parent might do
then deep in my mind’s eye millennia flew
the room filled with sound, my vision was splintered
I saw all he’d ever been, spirit of winter
the holly and mistletoe hung in a cave
to ward off the bleakness of dark fleeting days;
the Bacchus-like rosy-cheeked spirit of feast;
Ded Moroz who roams Russian skies in the East;
Befana, St Nick, Sinta Clas, Chimney John
the hope of survival, the promise of fun.
Then like that, he was gone, so I ran to the door
outside the snow fell as I watched the sleigh soar
off to wrap up the planet in ribbons of light
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.