Those who know me know I hate the song, ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ and why and if you are curious to know why go here and read my last blog entry about holiday songs I hate (and others I love).
Moving forward on the theme there is an entire website that pops up for the holiday called Sketchy Santas on Failblog.com you can click here to see photos of innocence and child-hood trauma caught on film.
Now, lets dig deep into the variations of Santa and other cultural oddities.
The Legend of St. Nicholas
The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas. It is believed that Nicholas was born sometime around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. Much admired for his piety and kindness, St. Nicholas became the subject of many legends. It is said that he gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick. One of the best known of the St. Nicholas stories is that he saved three poor sisters from being sold into slavery or prostitution by their father by providing them with a dowry so that they could be married. Over the course of many years, Nicholas’s popularity spread and he became known as the protector of children and sailors. His feast day is celebrated on the anniversary of his death, December 6. This was traditionally considered a lucky day to make large purchases or to get married. By the Renaissance, St. Nicholas was the most popular saint in Europe. Even after the Protestant Reformation, when the veneration of saints began to be discouraged, St. Nicholas maintained a positive reputation, especially in Holland.
St. Nicholas made his first inroads into American popular culture towards the end of the 18th century. In December 1773, and again in 1774, a New York newspaper reported that groups of Dutch families had gathered to honor the anniversary of his death.
The name Santa Claus evolved from Nick’s Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas). In 1804, John Pintard, a member of the New York Historical Society, distributed woodcuts of St. Nicholas at the society’s annual meeting. The background of the engraving contains now-familiar Santa images including stockings filled with toys and fruit hung over a fireplace. In 1809, Washington Irving helped to popularize the Sinter Klaas stories when he referred to St. Nicholas as the patron saint of New York in his book, The History of New York. As his prominence grew, Sinter Klaas was described as everything from a “rascal” with a blue three-cornered hat, red waistcoat, and yellow stockings to a man wearing a broad-brimmed hat and a “huge pair of Flemish trunk hose.”
Santa Claus has many aliases…
18th-century America’s Santa Claus was not the only St. Nicholas-inspired gift-giver to make an appearance at Christmastime. Similar figures were popular all over the world. Christkind or Kris Kringle was believed to deliver presents to well-behaved Swiss and German children. Meaning “Christ child,” Christkind is an angel-like figure often accompanied by St. Nicholas on his holiday missions. In Scandinavia, a jolly elf named Jultomten was thought to deliver gifts in a sleigh drawn by goats. English legend explains that Father Christmas visits each home on Christmas Eve to fill children’s stockings with holiday treats. Pere Noel is responsible for filling the shoes of French children. In Russia, it is believed that an elderly woman named Babouschka purposely gave the wise men wrong directions to Bethlehem so that they couldn’t find Jesus. Later, she felt remorseful, but could not find the men to undo the damage. To this day, on January 5, Babouschka visits Russian children leaving gifts at their bedsides in the hope that one of them is the baby Jesus and she will be forgiven. In Italy, a similar story exists about a woman called La Befana, a kindly witch who rides a broomstick down the chimneys of Italian homes to deliver toys into the stockings of lucky children.
For further reading of Santa Claus and other holiday traditions from around the world I found this website sponsored by the California mall and features articles for the following countries: Australia, Austria, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Venezuela.
Of course Santa has made other appearances and we cannot forget cameos to a News of the Weird incident:
Last Christmas season (2001), to demonstrate “fertilization” of the earth, the Copia art emporium in Napa, Calif., exhibited 35 squatting, butt-baring figurines by Spanish artist Antoni Miralda (including nuns, angels, Santa Claus and the pope). A Copia spokesperson said placing such defecating statuettes in Nativity scenes is a traditional activity in the Catalonia region of Spain. [Santa Cruz Sentinel-AP, 1-6-02]
[~~~~~~ OK, hold up, this has to be BS! ~~~~~~ Or, so you would hope. Who would have a tradition of poopy nativity scenes? Believe me when I tell you I tried very hard to GOOGLE that image mentioned above, but apparently because it was for that Copia art emporium there wasn’t a lot of public photos made available, I couldn’t find nary a one. However, because GOOGLE does what GOOGLE does it gave me several helpful ‘suggestion’ images to view, and sure enough, there were squating/pooping peoples wearing Santa hats among other recognizable characters. One thing lead to another and here is what I found on one blog site which referenced me onto Wikipedia.com (sigh) which describes the following:
Caganer is a figurine appearing in nativity scenes in Catalonia and neighboring areas with Catalan culture such as Andorra, Valencia, Northern Catalonia (in southern France) and the Balearic Islands. It is most popular and widespread in these areas, but can also be found in other areas of Spain (Murcia), Portugal and southern Italy (Naples). The figure is depicted in the act of defecation.]
Following the Dec. 5 Newtown, England, charity Santa Claus race (in which 4,000 Saint Nicks in full costume competed), police had to use noxious spray and nightsticks to break up a brawl of about 30 Santas when the festive spirit got out of hand. [BBC News, 12-9-04]
A few other wacky Santa stories from around the interwebs…
In 2007, the Kitsap Sun (WA) reported on a home owner displaying a Santa Clause of a 15 ft high crucifix. The guy claims it was to speak out against the commercialization of Christmas, but he also thought it would be funny. (Uhm, mixed signals much?)
At Weirdthings.com they posted an article that researchers at the University of Oxford found that GOOGLE search patterns showed pockets of populace that GOOGLED for Zombies or Satan (I don’t know why the paired the two) more than Santa Claus searches.
They go one to explore other interesting Santa phenomenon and urban legends. I won’t steal their thunder, go check it out.
Now, I can’t beat pooping nativity scenes or crapping Santas so I’m going to switch gears slightly.
My in-laws recently went to a play regarding when the Nazis stopped fighting the Allies to enjoy a Christmas together. Happily, and strangely, this is not a work of fiction and my favorite site of trivial information, Cracked.com, featured it recently in an article.
From 6 Inspiring Tales of Friendship in the Middle of Brutal Wars, by John Champion, we have the tale of Nazi Germany and Allied troops temporarily calling peace for Christmas.
In the last days of the Second World War, just before Hitler realized that picking a fight with the entire world wasn’t going to end well for him, the Nazis launched one final offensive against the Allies. The Battle of the Bulge was not, as we thought in elementary school, the story of one man’s battle to hide an unfortunate erection, but a very last-ditch effort of a cornered and angry German war machine. Occurring over Christmas 1944, yuletide cheer was running in understandably short supply.
In the meantime, in a small cottage nearby on the German-Belgian border, a 12-year-old boy and his mother were busy minding their own damn business. Their dreams of blissful ignorance were shattered when three American soldiers arrived at their front door, one with serious wounds. These Americans were armed, desperate and, with it being Christmas Eve, freezing to death. For Germans under the Nazi regime, sheltering enemy troops was high treason. Fortunately, this German woman didn’t give even a single shit about politics on Christmas.
So she invited them in and began to tend to their wounds. Then there was another knock at their door.
Four Nazi soldiers had arrived.
Though the mother knew they could be shot for violating the rules of war, she took a gamble and sternly told the lost and hungry Germans that there would be no killing that night. The boy and his mother had a Christmas chicken all fattened up and ready to be butchered, so they went ahead and prepared the feast with their unexpected guests. Proving that Hollywood has no monopoly on Christmas magic, the American soldiers and the German soldiers all turned their weapons over to the woman and feasted together, without so much as exchanging passive-aggressive insults.
Then, in the morning, when the wounded American had semi-recovered, the German soldiers directed the American soldiers back to their lines, telling them how to avoid all the areas that the Nazis had recaptured.
The story spread after the boy, Fritz Vincken, grew up and told the story to Reader’s Digest (it became so famous that even President Ronald Reagan mentioned it in a speech when he visited Germany). You could write it off as something he pulled out of his imagination when up against a magazine deadline, but then in 1995 Fritz found one of the soldiers, who had separately been telling the story to everyone he met for years. On that night, American and Nazi soldiers really did just sit down in the middle of the war and have a quiet Christmas dinner.
If you want to read more about Fritz specifically click here to read more about his true story. Sadly, Fritz passed away at the age of 69 in 2002 in Salem, Oregon. The story should live on because I think that it is amazing and goes to show if two warring factions trying to kill each other can sit down to a Christmas dinner you should be able to handle a holiday meal with your own family one evening out of the year.
Maybe we just need a stern German woman who’ll brook no-nonsense standing over us to get the job of peace done. 🙂
Lastly, because I cannot resist anything Oatmeal related going into my articles if it blends with my theme I bring you How Different Age Groups Celebrate Christmas.
Merry Christmas from me too! I hope you all have a safe and happy holiday; please remember to have a designated driver should you decide to reenact the above pictured party scene.