He’s made his list and he’s checked it twice... but as Santa Claus prepares his sleigh ahead of the busiest night of the year, will he be willing to tell us the secret of who’s been naughty or nice?

“IT is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas,” wrote Dickens in his elegiac tale about the life of mean old Ebenezer.

For whom do we decorate our living rooms and place treats on our doorsteps on Christmas Eve if not for those still young enough to believe in miracles? Children define Christmas. Without them, the curious act of bringing a tree into your home, hanging baubles on its branches, placing an angel on top and presents beneath would be pretty solid evidence of madness.

But when we see the faces of the young, charmingly innocent, considering the prospect that they are witnesses to magic – real magic – somehow it all makes sense. And this brings us rather nicely to what must be the dream of every child at Christmas time: a chance encounter with Santa Claus himself.

Throughout the festive period, old Nikolaos of Myra has made a home for himself in the Brunel Centre.

“I absolutely love meeting the children at this time of year,” said Santa, as he lounged in his grotto before opening his doors to throngs of excitable, present-hungry kids.

Just as bearded and portly as he is customarily depicted, he tilted his head towards the ceiling, narrowing his eyes to aid concentration, and began to explain why he considers himself so fortunate to have been born a fairytale.

“It’s hard to explain, but you feel a big sense of warmth helping the children. You sit them down and listen to their stories, and finding out what they want for Christmas makes my day. It feels good to be able to bring a smile to their faces.”

After a quick detour charting the landscape of his early life in 4th century Asia Minor, and his subsequent vocation as the festive joy-bringer, Saint Nick, as his friends call him, turned to the things the Kiddiewinks demand when they come to see him.

“Some are very nervous when they come into the grotto,” he said. “But part of the fun is bringing them round and making them feel comfortable.

“The parents always love it. You can see how much it means to them when their kids are happy. They often join in and really get into the feel of it.

“Generally speaking, girls ask for things such as dolls and make-up, and boys want electrical things – iPads, mobile phones, computers.

“Some ask for a pony or a puppy, which aren’t things I can really help with.”

Christmas is, of course, a time for family and for appreciating all that you have, which for some children is easier said than done.

Bowing his head, the old man reflected on a particularly “heart-wrenching” experience he had had with one little girl. Perched on his lap, she responded to the invariable question: ‘What would you like for Christmas?’ by requesting her dead mother be returned. Her mum had passed away the previous year and the little girl simply wanted to see her again.

“I told her that her mummy was in Heaven watching over her, and that she was in her heart, too. I said there is no need to be sad because your mummy will always love you. Needless to say, it brought a tear to my eye.”

But there are some things that death cannot touch. And if Christmas is one of them, then it is in no small part down to the immortal figure of Santa Claus himself. For he is at once the light and the dark, the joy and the tedium. His image hijacked and cynically deployed by corporate hucksters, he is the embodiment of commercial chicanery and wholesale avarice, a reminder that we are, in the words of the celebrated linguist Noam Chomsky, consumers rather than citizens, who dwell in shopping malls instead of communities.

But he is also the magic, the goodwill, the generosity. It is he who brings the presents and who eats the mince pies left on the doorstep. Without him, there would be no tree on which to hang the baubles or place the gifts beneath. There would be no tinsel, no cards, no turkey.

And without him, children would not be able to believe in the power of dreams and flying reindeer.

“I look forward to Christmas every year,” said the old man, nodding with a smile.

“It’s really good fun and I certainly don’t plan on giving it up any time soon.”

Merry Christmas, he said.