Tuesday, December 20, 2016

5 weird Christmas facts you probably didn't know

At a Christmas Market in Prague
The Christmas season is here and about to round third base as it comes in to home this coming Sunday. People across the planet celebrate the day—or some day at least—celebrating the birth of Christ, while other people look on at all the strange things that have come to define the season. So, whether you’re possibly a Communist Chinese guy who has to ramp up his factory production to meet the 5-Christmas Season Plan, or you’re Pat’s grandma who is in charge of whipping up the egg nog, you’re going to be a part of Christmas somehow. The globalized economy demands it.

So for your entertainment, here are six things that maybe you didn’t know about Christmas. Or perhaps you thought were weird but you didn’t have the caffeine readily available to Wikipedia them yourself.

1. Star Wars

Along with trees, lights, and gifts, Disney has ensured that Star Wars is now a defining feature for the foreseeable future of the Christmas season. Last year, we got the introduction to the new trilogy, while this year we’ve got what has been introduced as a “Star Wars Story”, a fantastic fashion to milk the franchise for all that it’s worth. But like Hallmark and Coca-Cola, who can blame them? I’ll enjoy this milking process just as much as I love an ice cream cake, and I know you probably will too. Especially if Snope turns out to be Jar-Jar.

2. Christmas trees
A Christmas tree in Bamberg, Germany

Some people say that we have Christmas trees because Jesus died on a cross made of trees. Others say because He ate chocolate Easter bunnies on a mountain in Lebanon, a country famous for its cedars. Also there’s that rumor that it was an ancient pagan tradition.

Where there is some evidence that pagans did bring branches of firs into their homes to remind them of spring, there’s little evidence about bringing in entire trees, and the first documented whole-tree use of a fir around the solstice wasn’t until the 1500s, when a cut fir was paraded around to advertise for nativity plays.

The Soviets though were sure to detach all religious significance from the tree, Christian or not, and that remains so throughout post-Soviet states today, where they celebrate with a tree on New Years’ instead. Apparently, Lenin and friends didn’t like the idea of keeping around Christian tradition, so did pretty much the same thing the Christians did with the pagans: coopted most of their practices into their own new holidays and killed anyone who didn’t follow the line.


Now even Christians in Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, and other formerly Christian states have trees and do the gift giving on New Years instead of Christmas. Fun fact, most Orthodox Christians don't celebrate Christmas until January 7th because they hate Catholics so much that they refuse to use a calendar designed by a pope.

3. Saint Nicholas
Saint Nicholas started his days in the Ancient Greek city of Patara in the 3rd century AD and became the Bishop of Myra—all on the southern coast of modern day Turkey.

He attended the Council of Nicaea, which was to decide the details of the newly legalized religion of Christianity. In overly simplified terms, the main contenders were Arius, fighting for a non-Trinitarian version of God, and Athanasius and his bunch, fighting for the One-In-Three-In-One idea. St. Nicholas was on Athanasius’s side and evidently got pissed about Arius’s blabbering, so he socked him a good one in the jaw. Some might say Paul would have handled the Sophists a bit better had he the Spirit of Old Saint Nick.

There isn’t much historically about Saint Nicholas giving out gifts, except one legend about an old man and his three, dowry-less daughters, who, without a dowry, would undoubtedly become prostitutes. Nicholas heard of this and threw a purse of gold coins into each girl’s room, saving them from a life of licentiousness. Others have him throwing purses at increasingly odd lists of random people, until one starts to wonder just where Nicholas was getting all this money.
St. Nicholas Island (Gemiler Island), where is the first tomb of St. Nicholas

In the 3rd and 4th century AD, all this saintliness usually had one marked for death, especially as Diocletian came to power, reversing all the blessings that Emperor Constantine had laid down on the Christians. Under Diocletian, Saint Nicholas would meet his end and evidence shows his first tomb was on the aptly named St. Nicholas Island—or modern day Gemiler Island—off the southern coast of Turkey. His bones were later moved to Myra and finally to Bari, Italy, where they rest today. Scientists have checked out the bones, declared them 4th century legits, and even used them to map out the face of Saint Nicholas.

4. Santa Clause

I’ve gotten into some weird arguments with Europeans over the years about Santa Clause. Some Europeans say they have Santa Clause, others say they don’t and have St. Nicholas instead. Yet others insist that they haven’t either, but rather the Father of Christmas. I’m here to tell all you Euros that they are all the same freaking guy!

The name Santa Clause comes from the Dutch of New Amsterdam (now New York, why they changed it...), who started using that spelling and name for their traditional Sinterklaas, or Sint-Nicolaas, which is Dutch for, you guessed it, Saint Nicholas. The main differences that Sinterklaas has with modern Santa Clause—and for that matter, most European iterations of Saint Nicholas have this difference—is that he walks around in a red and white bishop’s outfit.

Special for the Dutch, he also walks around with a little helper in blackface called Blackface Piet. The Dutch are a most racially sensitive group of fellows.

In Russian influenced territories, Santa Clause is traded in for the blue-donned Grandfather Frost. He’s jolly in every way that you’d expect a Russian frost demon to be, freezing to death evil lazy boyars and giving a breath of wintry aid to the hard-working peasants. After the Russian Revolution, he was re-educated and re-habilitated as a jolly old Red-coated man with a beautiful Russian girl on his arm, bringing kids gifts on New Years Day. 

5. Santa Clause’s helpers

In the United States, we believe that Santa Clause traded in his black-faced companion for a more politically correct army of midget elves, who slave away all-year around in a camp in the North Pole.

In Russia, I mentioned the insanely hot Russian babe named Snegurochka that Ded Moroz gets to hang out with, she’s something of a sexy Mrs. Clause found in the costume shops. Unfortunate for Ded Moroz, Snegurochka though was designated as his granddaughter by the Politburo.

Back up in Holland, there was our blackface friend, Zwarte Piet. Little Dutch children are told that Piet’s blackface comes from all the soot of the chimneys that gets on Piet’s face as he crawls down them, a slave to the Dutch white guy Sinterklaas, delivering presents and doing every bidding of the Dutch trader. Some historians say that Piet really is black because he represents two of Odin’s ravens, Huginn and Muninn, who defected to Santa Clause after Ragnarok.

The Alpine peoples probably have the weirdest helper of Satan—cough—I mean Santa. There they have the Krampus. Krampus was an old pagan god of the Alps, with shaggy goat’s hair, goat’s feet, huge horns. Most saints traditionally have the power to enslave demons, just as Solomon and Jesus did in the Bible, and bend those accursed creatures to be servants of the light. Santa apparently did this with Krampus on one of his visits to Switzerland, and now Krampus has to wear a big bell around his waist so Santa always knows where this feisty and cunning servant is.

Krampus at a parade in Kaplice, Czech Republic

Am I missing any? What are your favorite Christmas traditions? Leave a comment below!

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