He lowered his head as he walked into the Green Man Pub from the Worlds Beyond on a much too cold late Autumn evening. An impressive thing to do given that door’s a shade over eight feet tall. Dressed mostly in black including his Russian style fur hat, save a floor length red woollen jacket trimmed with black fur and red detailing.
Strangely enough though he was no longer as big as a small troll when he reached the bar. Still big mind you and stocky too — six and three quarters feet easily, wide shoulders, and I guessed twenty five stone in weight, none of it fat. When he removed his hat, I saw that he had his black hair tied back in a pony tail clasped with a silver serpent chasing itself. And he bore a neatly trimmed goatee and moustache. And deep grey eyes — a rare thing indeed.
I asked his preference in drink. Mead if you got it, he said, or failing that vodka if it’s from Mother Russia. I started him off with our metheglin, the batch that’d been aged for a decade. Rare stuff indeed in a world where most mead makers think a month’s long enough to age it.
He asked in a deep voice, ‘Is this where the members of Local 564 of the Ancient and Venerable Guild of St. Nicholas, which represents Santas, Santa’s helpers, department store elves, tree trimmers, candle lighters, professional gift wrappers, goose stuffers, roast chestnut vendors, plum pudding makers, sleigh drivers, carollers for hire, bell ringers, and related trades holds their annual post-Christmas meeting?’
I was impressed that he got that correct as it’s an invocation that, when spoken correctly, grants the hearer to admit that yes, that’s right.
After pouring him the metheglin, I asked who he was. I thought I knew who but I wanted to make sure my guess was right. He said that he had many names and many guises down the centuries but he preferred to be known just as Nicholas though he was known also as Winter by many. He was the personification of all the Christmas deities down the years. And he was here because he felt it was time to visit us as many of his mortal helpers here mentioned him in their thoughts.
You really, I said, with the deference due a possible God, don’t look like any of the Santas I’ve seen depicted. Hesitantly I went on and said, You really look like the living version of a Tzar who’s indeed the God that Russian peasants thought he was such as Peter the Great or Nicholas II as painted by a particularly well paid artist.
Instead of the frown I expected, he grinned widely showing many gold teeth and roared out a laugh as deep as the roots of a mountain. Well, he said, I do control what I choose to look like and I choose to be like this.
The rest of this tale I’ll tell another time. Suffice it to say now that I learned much about the secret history of all Winter holidays, from who was the very first Snow Queen to why the British Royal Family so enthusiastically adopted the trappings of Christmas after the German royalty that married into that line brought those rituals to them.
So for now, I say good night and sleep well. Dream of sugar plum faeries and such if you want, but I’ll be dreaming of a darker, much more pagan holiday.