Jon de Vos: In a one-donkey open sleigh
Winter Park, CO Colorado
It was a quiet Christmas Eve in the tiny town of Chester, Va., a few years back, when jolly old Santa, in full beard and red-suited regalia, ho, ho, ho’ed his way into the town’s only drugstore. He held one forefinger to the side of his nose and used the other hand to wave a Colt .45 at the druggist, shouting, “Gimmee all the Oxycodone!”
With Santas like that, it’s no wonder a U.S. News and World Report poll discovered that only 9 percent of American adults believe in Santa Claus. I’m at a loss. NORAD actually has tiny pictures of Santa in low orbit, you can see them tonight at http://www.noradsanta.org/en/index.html What more proof could anyone want? Next they’ll say they faked the moon landings.
So, who is this guy who gets his jollies by slithering down chimneys? And what’s smoldering in that corncob pipe that makes him that way?
Nicholas was born in Turkey around 290 AD. Legend goes that even as a kid he was performing miracles on the house cat. He leapt out of obscurity when he saved three virgins from a fate worse than death by throwing bags of gold down their chimneys. Ignore that interesting imagery and focus on the fact that Nick became so popular for his piety that he was appointed a Turkey Bishop. As wrong as that sounds, it was then that he performed his greatest miracle.
He was living a meager life (starving) in Constantinople but noticed, oddly enough, that the local butcher was growing fat while village children mysteriously disappeared. One day, the young bishop was groping in the butcher’s barrel for a meaty, pickled pig’s foot, but plucked out the leg of one of the missing children instead. It seems the butcher’s special was “the other white meat.” Well, what was a Saint to do but roll his big sleeves up and bring the kids back to life?
Trouble was, the parents of these children were not thrilled at all to get the wrinkled little beggars back after a few weeks in the pickle barrel. They called the centurions and the anti-Christian emperor Diocletian tortured him and threw him in prison to rot.
In 313, the new emperor, Constantine the Great, converted the Roman Empire to Christianity, pardoning Nicholas who resumed his incessant Christian endeavors until he died in 342. He grew to become so loved as to be named the patron saint of Russia, Greece, Sicily and all sailors.
Kids today would not recognize him. He was tall and skinny rode around on a donkey, not a reindeer. His gifts were nuts, fruit, and a hard candy or two. Even without Macy’s gift cards, his legend endured for a thousand years until he was banished from Europe during the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. The Dutch kept his memory alive, spelling his name, “Sint Nikolass” which was later anglicized to Santa Claus. But he was still tall and skinny.
Santa was much shaped by Clement Moore’s 1823 poem, The Night Before Christmas. It was wildly popular then and remains so today, naming the reindeers, describing Santa’s laugh, and his breaking and entering via the chimney.
Additional touches on Santa’s image were provided by Thomas Nast, the American illustrator for the Christmas issues of Harper’s magazine from the 1860s to the 1880s. Further shaping came from the Coca-Cola advertisements of the 1930s. Rudolph, the red-nosed ninth reindeer, came to us in 1939, courtesy of the Montgomery Ward marketing department.
Alas, when legends fall, they sometimes fall far. Citing the lack of reliable documentation, Pope Paul VI purged Nicholas from the Roman Catholic calendar in 1969.
Closer to home, Chester Chief of Police, Mike Spraker, hastened to calm down the public everywhere, “No reindeer or sleighs were observed in the area. We immediately contacted the North Pole and verified Santa was still there. This Santa was clearly an impostor.”
See? Santa rules. Among nine out of a hundred adults.
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