A number of cast members from ‘Downton Abbey’ have been nominated and of course won accolades for best supporting actor over the past few years, including Maggie Smith many times, Brendan Coyle (Mr Bates), Anna (Joanne Frogatt) and Jim Carter (Mr Carson). Of course, the Castle has never quite qualified despite being, in my opinion, almost a “character” in its own right. At this time of year, as well as those in the Nativity, the main character is undoubtedly Father Christmas, or Santa Claus as he is also known. He has a marvelous home in the North Pole, a whole series of holiday homes or grottoes around the world, a globally recognized wardrobe and, lucky fellow, virtually no lines to learn – we just enjoy his presence.

This year we are having our own Santa’s Grotto here at the Castle. Chief Christmas Elf Sally has been busy making sure it is ready to welcome the great man and the children who come to see him. He has kindly taken over the little Etruscan Temple, one of the 18th century follies we have on the Estate. You had to follow a tinsel trail to find it but that is part of the fun.

He had a nice red leather armchair to sit on, surrounded by sacks full of presents. Nearby, was his sledge parked alongside his herd of willow reindeer, a postbox, fairy lights, some comfortable cushions and a Victorian street lamp to help light the way as the afternoon light began to fade. Although he is very busy at this time of year, he was delighted to see so many children and very happy to have some photographs taken.

Muffet the Shetland pony also came to see how Father Christmas was doing. She was delighted by her exciting new career which was to stand by the sledge and look adorable. She had learnt her lines very well and Father Christmas was so pleased, she earned a delicious apple when she returned to her stable.

Father Christmas also had two assistant elves to help him (Cat and Jess). It soon became clear that they were very partial to hot chocolate and mulled wine to sustain their supporting roles.

Father Christmas has been in the world for a long time, with many different names and traditions in different countries. His origins can be traced back through the centuries from Odin in Norse Mythology, to Saint Nicholas in the fourth century, through to the Dutch Sinterklaas. St Nicholas became the patron saint of Russia and Greece and variously of children, sailors and other charitable guilds but his association with gift giving to children – whether naughty or nice – only developed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

We very much hope that Father Christmas will return to Highclere on Christmas Eve and that his hard working reindeer will find the carrots (with tops) tasty whilst Luis (our own Carson) will consult Nanny as to what particular tipple she thinks Father Christmas might best enjoy – who knew he had a penchant for Baileys?