Even the Christmas Rant gets earlier every year. Just by a day though. All the previous rant rules apply:
- It’s the least wonderful time of the year
- Forced jollyness without representation is against the consitution, or it should be!
- Christmas music is terrible
- Giving gifts is expensive and I don’t want your shite!
I heard a story recently about a Christian looking for a job as a youth worker. He visited a church and was asked during the interview what plans he would put in place with regards to Christmas and the young people in the congregation. He gave an example where he had worked in a church before and got someone to dress as father Christmas and give the kids a few small pressies and a party. He was sternly told “At this church we do not discuss mythical people.”
It’s fun on so many levels but the most fun is that whilst it’s likely that Jesus existed and had a cult following he’s certainly become something of a mythical figure over the centuries. Not unlike Saint Nicholas who Father Christmas is loosely based on. In fact we have many different versions of Santa Clause and I’m having trouble working out which one is my favourite. Let’s look at the evidence.
I’m going to start with the one I grew up with. In my house we had Father Christmas. Father Christmas used to fill a massive pillow case of goodies on Christmas Eve and I used to wake up in the early hours of the morning and raid it for chocolate. Obviously I used to spend the rest of the day being told off for eating everything in one go but it was worth it. Well done Father Christmas and my mum. It’s slightly embarrassing to point out that this is still the ritual and I’m 38 but well done Father Christmas and my mum! So that’s nice. I get goodies and everyone’s happy. But this is slightly different from the American Santa that dominates everything with his tiny round glasses, mince pies and Reindeer buggering. Yes, you read correctly! I don’t like this corporate asshole with his massive sleigh of presents encouraging consumerism and trying to get close to kids. What parent would want their children near this drunk old stranger-danger, glint in the eye, weirdo?
It’s crazy when you think about how we got from Saint Nicholas to the American Santa. Coca-Cola will share some of the blame. Let’s have a look at the original Saint Nick.
Saint Nicholas was Bishop of Myra, born in the 3rd century when Christianity was a cult and persecution was a reasonable prospect. Imprisoned for his beliefs under Roman Emporor Diocletian his life was transformed under Emperor Constantine who converted to Christianity. Nicholas was present at the first Council of Nicaea. This meeting helped change Christianity from Cult to religion by deciding that Jesus was begotten from God and therefore had no start, giving explanation to the same entity being both the Son and the Father. This no doubt pleased the Holy Spirit who was beginning to give up hope.
Nick was renowned for good deeds and being a jolly nice chap to children and animals. One story revolves around his generosity when he found that a family was very poor and he threw bags of gold through an open window so that the daughters in the house would be able to provide a good dowry and find a well to do husband. The gold landed in their stockings. In another version of the story the daughters were hanging up their freshly cleaned stockings ready to become prostitutes but they were saved from this when Nick placed gold coins in the stockings. So that’s the original and it’s understandable that he spawned a legend or two. Linking back to the story about the guy trying to get a job at a church, it tickles me to think that Saint Nicholas actually helped to turn Jesus into a God rather than just a man. Why are so many Christians oblivious to the bullshit their beliefs are founded on? At least get educated and still believe in all the love thy neighbour stuff; you might earn some respect.
Meanwhile in the Netherlands, Sinterklaas, for it is he, arrived in the country from Spain in the middle of November and was greeted by race riots. Yep, that’s right. Now, Sinterklaas has a helper called Black Pete. Some people claim that Pete is black from soot as he delivers presents down chimneys whereas others claim he was a slave who helped St Nick flee modern day Turkey and head for Spain. Nick kept him on as he thought he’d come in handy. Large sections of the Dutch populace take part in Sinterklaas parades where they black up. A further part of the legend is that Pete only brings presents for good children and then fills his sack with the bad ones, taking them back to Spain to do who knows what with. Sinterklaas meanwhile is resplendent in red robe, white beard and bishop’s hat – a mix of Coca-Cola and Pope. The whole thing is a bizarre mix of legends, based on a seemingly real person. A bit like Christianity but without the hope that things might one day get better, even if we have to die first. It’s hard to imagine this tradition lasting for too much longer. The protestations of people claiming that there’s nothing racist about a legend where children are taught to be good because if they’re not a black man will kidnap them and take them to a foreign land need to stop.
It seems the modern European version actually came back from Dutch settlers in the New World. The Sinterklass tradition was apparently brought back from New Amsterdam. Meanwhile of course, and eventually over time, we have the full on American version of Santa Claus. Corporate, Hollywood glitz complete with massive levels of consumerism. I found Santa Claus the Movie hard to watch as a kid because it wasn’t the Father Christmas I knew and it was also really boring. This version of Saint Nick was shaped by Coca-Cola who still advertise that they created practically the whole damn thing.
So we have the original Saint Nicholas who was fairly awesome, Father Christmas with his quaint old fashioned gift giving, Sinterklass with his race riots and Santa Claus with his glamour, big fat belly and commercialisation. This is not an exhaustive list. Here’s a list of names for St. Nick around the world.
Finally, this image of the white guy with beard might actually be totally wrong. It’s just possible that Saint Nicholas actually originated from modern day Morocco or from Moor ancestry in Spain. So he might have actually been darker skinned.
Have a wonderful Christmas!
Be sure to check back on 29th November 2015 (because even the Christmas Rant get earlier every year) for “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Bullshit”, when Christmas Songs will be ranted about.