Santa Train


I kept hearing it. A whistle, high-pitched, carried by the wind. It’s the steam train, it must be, taking families to see Santa. Is he is in a grotto somewhere?

I remember being taken to see him in the House of Fraser department store in Manchester. I dreaded it. It felt awkward. I didn’t believe him. He was too human, too solid. I felt the warmth of him as I sat on his knee. And then to be asked what you wanted for Christmas only to be given something cheap and plastic in return. It didn’t make sense. And besides, we were different. We celebrated Christmas Eve not Christmas Day. Put some Mince Pies out for the Nisser, Mum would say. Who? You know, she’d say, like on the snow scene.

I loved that snow scene. A little hut, snow made out of cotton wool, a bulb of yellow light and little elves skiing, standing and playing all over it. They’re the Nisser, she’d say. They are sprites. You have to appease them so that your crops don’t fail. We were farmers, we Norwegians, she’d say. I thought it magical. As I did all the decorations she’d put out. Twigs and pine cones sprayed silver. Plastic berries, real holly leaves and the most luxurious tinsel, thick and luscious. Gold and silver. She took such trouble. I can see why now. It’s what they do, the Norwegians, a talisman against the dark. The last advent candle lit tomorrow. I miss her. I miss her style, her attention to detail. I remember the first taste of Christmas sherry, the light-headedness. And her looking so beautiful. Lipsticks kisses on my cheek.

Thank you for all those memories. For the Kerplunk and the Tiny Tears. I love you.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.