Goodwill Despite Rejection
The ‘Santa Claus‘ poem by Banjo Paterson depicts an encounter between a sentry and Santa Claus one Christmas night in a military camp. Through this lighthearted episode, Paterson explores themes of holiday spirit, homesickness, and duty.
The poem begins with the sentry challenging a figure in white approaching the camp perimeter. Santa identifies himself by his traditional garb and pine staff, explaining his mission of spreading Christmas cheer and thoughts of home to soldiers abroad.
Paterson portrays Santa as a kindly symbol of the holiday season, bearing natural reminders from the soldiers’ homelands – a Scottish burn, English rose, Canadian snows – to inspire nostalgia. The gifts show Santa’s empathy for their longing and his global role.
However, the sentry remains focused on his duty, repeating that Santa cannot enter without proof of identity. The imaginary scene gently satirizes military formality overriding Christmas generosity.
Santa disappears after thoughtfully wishing the sentry well, proving his goodwill despite the rejection. In the morning, the soldiers realize who had come to bring them holiday respite.
Through this brief verse narrative, Paterson reveals wistful themes of homesickness and maintaining spirit despite the burdens of service. Santa represents holiday cheer penetrating martial rigidity, if only for a fleeting moment. Paterson skillfully weaves in emotions of the season.
“Halt! Who goes there?” The sentry’s call
Rose on the midnight air
Above the noises of the camp,
The roll of wheels, the horses’ tramp.
The challenge echoed over all—
“Halt! Who goes there?”
A quaint old figure clothed in white,
He bore a staff of pine,
An ivy-wreath was on his head.
“Advance, oh friend,” the sentry said,
“Advance, for this is Christmas night,
And give the countersign.”
“No sign nor countersign have I,
Through many lands I roam
The whole world over far and wide,
To exiles all at Christmastide,
From those who love them tenderly
I bring a thought of home.
“From English brook and Scottish burn,
From cold Canadian snows,
From those far lands ye hold most dear
I bring you all a greeting here,
A frond of a New Zealand fern,
A bloom of English rose.
“From faithful wife and loving lass
I bring a wish divine,
For Christmas blessings on your head.”
“I wish you well,” the sentry said,
“But here, alas! you may not pass
Without the countersign.”
He vanished—and the sentry’s tramp
Re-echoed down the line.
It was not till the morning light
The soldiers knew that in the night
Old Santa Claus had come to camp
Without the countersign.