Okay, I’ll level with you all. I actually hate Christmas. Like a lot. I do my best not to rain on everyone’s parades when it comes to the holidays because usually I’m alone in my hatred of the storm of red and green that falls on us all beginning in bloody October, thereby shoving MY favorite holiday to the sidelines but who’s bitter about that? Anyway. If you adore the holidays, you can rest assured that I won’t actually attempt to take that away from you and there are going to be links in here for you too. Some of them will be nice. Some of them will be naughty. While it’s tempting to let it be a present and find out which is which by clicking, I won’t be that mean and let you know up front through the regular annotations what you’re getting into. All this said, fair warning that if you love the guy in the red suit, this might change how you look at him, for better or worse. If you’re with me in the groaning your way through your eggnog that’s mostly rum at this point, jump upon my sleigh because I promise there’s stuff for you too. Whatever party you belong to, you do you, have fun without making other people wish for the sweet release of death while you’re doing it and keep studying!
This is a peace offering up front to those who love this holiday. This cutesy little site is powered by the almighty google and whether you’re catering to the little ones or catering to the inner little one inside of you that wants to have a fun holiday despite the dumpster fire of a the year, there’s tons here to keep you happy. There’s a bunch of cute stories and games and a countdown to the big day. Enjoy!
“Who Was St. Nicholas?” – Nate Barksdale – History.com – Dec 2014
A particularly short article but covers all the basics of what you need to know if you are new to the idea of Santa being a real person.
“Who is Saint Nicholas?” – No Listed Author – The St. Nicholas Centre – 2020
This is a pretty good reference to get more of an idea of the lore around the saint in a fairly quick article. That said, be on the awares that it was written very clearly with some religious bias around it, so historically, it might be a bit less than reliable. Obviously, there are things that can’t be verified and are likely entirely just stories, such as the reviving the three murdered children, but there are also glossed over elements, such as the fact that the Roman jails were so full of men of the cloth that there was no room for those pesky murderers and actual crime committers. Under any other circumstance, I wouldn’t include something with this degree of bias, but I think it’s a good source to get a sense of the lore from a religious perspective. It also helps to establish why some of the traditions have lasted, despite having no connection to the birth of Christ.
“The Real Face of Santa” – Still images from a BBC Documentary Special – 2014
Here’s the first in a few resources that might change your image of the venerated saint and jolly red elf that you pretend to be for your kids and loved ones every year. This is, as the description implies, a few pictures from a documentary that was put out about uncovering who Santa really was and you get to see the reconstruction of what his face may have looked like. Keep in mind that the Claus that we know now was adapted to European and then to North American sensibilities well after he was celebrated as a saint and that accounts for why he’s gotten pastier in his old age. The real Saint was from what is modern day Turkey and was indeed quite a bit browner.
“How St. Nicholas Raised 3 Boys From the Dead: The Miraculous Legend Behind the Patron Saint of Children” – ChurchPop editorial (No Author Listed) – ChurchPop – Dec 2019
This is a short run down of the story where St. Nicholas resurrects the three children who had been murdered. It’s worth it to remember that this is only one version and that there are details that change over the course of the many years it gets passed down. Still, this covers all the same beats as most of the other stories, for the most part, so it’s a good little briefing on this legend about St. Nick and his necromantic habits.
“Le Pere Fouettard: The French Christmas Cannibal who Serves Santa Claus” – All About History Team (No individual authors listed) – History Answers UK – Dec 2016
This is just another resource to see how the lore of Santa as a resurrection artist of children traveled and changed over the years. This one gives us a name for our evil butcher who lured the children to their doom. It also gives us a look at his fate after Nicholas resurrected the children.
“Ten Things You Need to Know to Celebrate Sinterklaas” – No Author Listed – Dutch News – Nov 2015
I’m getting the sense that with a topic that has this much common knowledge around the lore, there’s a lot of editorials that get written by shipping things around the office but aren’t actually attributed to any one person because no one really has the right to the byline. That’s what I’m going to assume, because like every article that I’ve found so far, I can’t list an author on it. Anyway. Research gripes aside, this is a great breakdown of the difference between Sinterklaas and the guy North Americans refer to as Santa Claus, who is the derivative of the former.
“Santa Claus” – History.com Editors – History.com – Feb 2010 but updated Feb 2020
A lot of these history articles will be rehashing a lot of what you read and most of does tend to follow the “second verse same as the first” kind of details about where Nicholas came from. That said, what distinguishes this one is that the article actually goes into how Santa was shaped in America and how that icon evolved. It’s a glancing look at best but it is worth reading just to get the background. That said, if you have read a few of the other articles about Nicholas of Myra, just skip ahead to the part where they start talking about the Dutch celebrations or Clement Clark Moore.
“Tomb of St. Nicholas May Have Been Discovered in Turkey” – No Author Listed – The Irish Times – Oct 2017
We’ll call this the first step in our journey to the age old question: are these the remains of the human we think we found or not? One of the joys (re: problems) of international expansion and connection between different countries is that while it opens up a lot of opportunity to share important and lovely things between different cultures, it also facilitates a bunch of thieving bastards coming in take those lovely and important things to their country for profit. And occasionally, said bastards will set up their own facilities for the things they’ve stolen and keep them locked away in places like archives and museums, starting a centuries long game of Tug o’ War for artifacts that probably should have stayed where they were. In this case, since Nicholas and his bones made up a venerated saint across different denominations of the Christian faith, this gets complicated and ugly when different churches get involved and declare said remains to be holy relics that belong in places like the Vatican or a tomb where they can be properly worshipped. This gets even more complicated when some of those churches will gift said relics to each other, thus making it nigh impossible to return said saint to his final resting place intact. Assuming he ever left. Thieves don’t make for good bone identifiers and ultimately death makes us all look pretty similar.
“Is This St. Nicholas’ Pelvis Bone?” – Jason Daley – The Smithsonian – Dec 2017
This is a great article by the Smithsonian that gives a good look at how the great hunt for Nicholas’ bones got started and why it continues today. It should be noted that gifting relics is common practice among churches and this only adds to the confusion but also makes it impossible to identify any given body.
“Where in the World are Santa Claus’ Bones?” – Matthew Blitz – Atlas Obscura – Dec 2017
This article gives a lot more details about the differences between religious relics and why they are sent to different spaces. It’s a really in depth article as well in giving you more information on what’s going on with the ongoing question of where St. Nick actually is, assuming we’ll ever know.
“Companions of Saint Nicholas” – Wikipedia
This isn’t an exhaustive list and it won’t go into all the details surrounding the different figures that accompany our good saint, nor will it necessarily cover any outside of Europe. That said, it does give you a good idea of the posse that St. Nick has and the company he tends to keep over there. For better or worse. Again, as you’ll see in the following links, there are some figures that are racially insensitive and while there is opposition to them, as with any tradition that people remember from childhood, there is also resistance to letting go of them. For more about that, specifically Zwarte Piet, look to the next articles.
“Pere Fouettard: Santa’s Sidekick who Beats up Kids” – No author listed – History Daily – Dec 2019
This is a good run down of this figure and gives you all the basics of what you should know about Pere Fouettard, including his strange alternate history. There is nothing else to let us know where abouts in America Father Flog was in the 30s but it still gives us a sense of the way that this figure evolved.
“Zwarte Piet: Opposition Grows to ‘Racist Black Pete’ Dutch Tradition” – Felicity Morse – Huffington Post – Dec 2012
Forgive the unwieldy link but I assure you that it works. This is not a tradition that has made its way over to North America and that would be for the best. The use of black face here is something that links back only as far as the 19th century, so while it is a tradition, it’s not one that was always entrenched in the Christmas activities of the Netherlands. I will state emphatically that I don’t agree with the use of blackface for any reason and I have my suspicions on how and why this started, though the origins are somewhat vague from what I can turn up in research. There is resistance to the continued use of this character and what it represents, so it’s clear that even within the country, people are not unaware of how it looks or that it hurts people. That said, be on the awares that the pictures in both this and the following article aren’t pleasant to look at and it’s very obvious why people have been protesting him.
“Zwarte Piet: Black Pete is Dutch Racism in Full Display” – Justine Swaab, Marie-Helene Carleton and Micah Garen – Aljazeera – Originally written Nov 2018 but updated in Nov 2019
Excellent article that gives a good look at the impact of this character on people in the Netherlands as well as some of the political climate going on in the country. It also gives a good account by a Black man and his experiences growing up with the character and how it affected him. Highly recommend reading this for more information on why this character probably should be retired or changed.
“Don’t Forget Santa’s Cookies and Milk: The History of a Popular Christmas Tradition” – Sarah Pruitt – History.com – Originally published Dec 2015, updated in Aug 2018
Just a little bit of trivia for anyone out there who wants to know more about holiday traditions around the world. As a quick side note, a close friend of mine had the most enterprising parents I know, in that they convinced her and her brother when they were kids that Santa got milk and cookies at every other house and said that at their house, just for a change, he would like chips and beer instead. Feel free to make up your own variety if you have kidlets but you can get some inspiration from some of these international practices if milk and cookies aren’t really what Santa is hoping for when he or she gets the kids to sleep.
“Victorian Christmas Traditions” – No author listed – Victoria and Albert Museum – Dec 2020
If you are someone who loves nostalgic looks at old fashioned Christmas decor, this very short article has a lovely offering of photos of Victoria Christmas settings. It also is a good reminder that a lot of our holiday offerings have been rather malleable and have evolved over a shorter amount of time than we might believe. While this celebration has existed for a long time, it wasn’t quite the experience it is now and, in some ways, the good old days are not necessarily that old or even what we think they might have been. And you can absolutely use this to introduce anything from a stripper pole to jello shooters (drink responsibly) to watching episodes of Hannibal at the holiday and calling it tradition because all it takes for this to catch on is for it to go for more than a couple of years and it’s a tradition. Look at the stupid Elf on the Shelf thing. Go forth and make your own traditions!
“Did Coca Cola Invent the Modern Image of Santa Claus?” – David Mikkleson – Snopes – Dec 2001
No. They didn’t.
“From the Grinch to Tim Burton, Canadian Malls Offer Spooky Santa Alternatives” – Maija Kappler – The Huffington Post – Nov 2019
Save us all from the unwieldy link but yes it works so that’s what matters. This is a great example of how a number of people are interested in integrating more subversive elements into their holiday activities. With the arrival of figures like Krampus as well, this season is starting to give Santa a bit less of the spotlight but it also allows him to remain the good figure that doesn’t become problematic or have any hidden cruel streak to him like we see in things like killer Santa movies or dark comedies that depict him as a bit more of an asshole.
No Go the Bogeyman: Scaring, Lulling and Making Mock
Marina Warner – Vintage Digital – First published in 1998; ebook published in 2011
The focus of this, as well as the bulk of Warner’s work, is in fairytales but the first section does have some background as punitive characters that are used as a means of scaring children into better behavior. Among these, Santa is an appropriate figure to bring up but so are his helpers, including Black Pete and Krampus, who take care of the active scaring part rather than St. Nick’s more passive denial of something that they want role.
“10 Scariest Killer Santa Clauses in Horror Movies, Ranked” – Jake Dee – Screenrant – Nov 2020
If you’re starting to get a toothache from all the Santa stuff and all of it being super sweet and fluffy, why not try one of these films on for size. Some of them are likely to be a bit more on the gory side than others, so be forewarned. I’m specifically thinking of Game Over, which, as a fair warning, features a dog dying. Animal death isn’t usually something most people are cool with, even in a horror film, so if you are looking for a fun slasher that will be entertaining to watch, stick with Silent Night, Deadly Night 2. Ricky is funny as hell and it won’t make you sick to your stomach.
“Santa Claus is Immune from Covid 19, Says Dr. Antony Fauci” – Lia Eustachewich – The New York Post – Nov 2020
I couldn’t resist. When the leading expert in infectious disease in the US takes the time to reassure children and the childlike that their favorite home invasion enthusiast is going to be fine to make his way into their homes to take their milk and cookies and leave them presents in return, I can’t pretend that isn’t kind of awesome. Sure there’s some stuff too about it being another way of incorporating the mythology into every day life and integrating practicality into lore but come the hell on. It’s Santa being immune to Covid and having protocol in place to protect his elves through masks and social distancing. That’s never going to not be awesome.
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