‘Twas the Night Before Christmas…

December 24

‘Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the store
Not a register was empty
Nor an inch of the floor

For the men of the nation
Had converged on this spot
To buy all the presents
They should’ve already bought.

Today my co-workers complimented me on my resistance to all the goodies lying around the office. It wasn’t resistance; it’s just that at this point my body weight is 90% chocolate, and the remaining ten is sugar.

My boss let us out early today (4:30) which gave me an hour and a half to do all my Christmas shopping.

Single women, if you want to find a man, go to any mall in America after 5pm on Christmas Eve. The stores are chock full of them. Take your pick. You will know one of these shoppers is a male because he has the same expression as a parachuter who has just been dropped in Uzbekistan with a map of Disneyland and a purse.

Believe it or not, there was a time when Christmas Eve was not associated with frantic mobs scavenging through Toys R Us for the last Diaper-Me Elmo, or whatever the current craze is.

That time was 1866. The following year, Macy’s department store remained open Christmas Eve until midnight for last minute shoppers, thus setting in motion the downward spiral that has consumed our society.

You’ll notice with a lot of Saints’ Days, that the “Eves” before are still more important than the Days themselves. The same goes for many Jewish, Muslim and Hindu holidays. In many calendars, the day once began at sunset, a time much easier for farmers to deduce than 11:59 pm.

Some “Eves” were celebrated reverently with a mass at church. But many an Eve developed a reputation for merry-making. For example, Saint Nick’s Eve when townspeople would dress a boy up as a clergyman–a “Boy-Bishop” he was called–who would imitate a priest, much to the delight of onlookers. Sometimes mobs would sing bawdy songs while careening drunkenly through the streets in a haphazard procession, often harassing the social elite in the process.

Boy Bishop
Boy Bishop

This led to King Henry VIII’s infamous “party-pooper” decree:

Whereas heretofore divers and many superstitions and chyldysh observances have be used, and yet to this day are observed and and kept…as upon Saint Nicholas, Saint Catherine, Saint Clement, the Holy Innocents, and such like, children be strangelie decked and apparayled to counterfeit priests, bishoppes, and women, as so be ledde with songes and daunces from house to house, blessing the people and gatherying of money; and boyes do singe masse and preache in the pulpitt…

The Kynges Maiestie therefore, myndinge nothinge so moche as to advance the true glory of God without vaine superstition, wylleth and commandeth that from henceforth all such superstitious observations be left and clerely extinguished throwout his realmes and dominions, for asmuch as the same doth resemble rather the unlawfull superstition of gentilitie, than the pure and sincere religion of Christe.”

Of course, the King’s piety didn’t stop him from beheading his wives (or improve his spellyng). After the King’s death, his Roman-Catholic daughter Queen Mary rescinded the ban in 1554.

During Christmastime the ancient spirit of Saturnalia came out to play under the guise of Christianity, leading one 16th century Anglican bishop to pronounce, “Men dishonour Christ more in the twelve days of Christmas, than in all the twelve months besides.”

Oliver Cromwell banned the celebration of Christmas altogether between 1649 and 1660. And the Puritans in Massachusetts followed suit in 1659.

Rituals like those described above evolved into what we call “wassailing”. Members of the impoverished gentry would sing outside the residences of the social elite, asking, sometimes rather persuasively, for money, or at least booze—a cross between trick-or-treating and Christmas caroling, and the forerunner of both. (It was also a time for servants to impose upon their masters for tips, much like today’s Christmas bonuses.)

But according to Stephen Nissenbaum, author of The Battle for Christmas, it was a group of early 19th century aristocrats–disturbed by the uncouth December rituals of the gentry–who implemented many of the family-friendly traditions now associated with Christmas in North America. Jock Elliot in Inventing Christmas calls 1823 to 1848 the “Big Bang” of Christmas traditions. Chief among these: Saint Nicholas’s annual reindeer-powered sleigh jaunt on Christmas Eve, immortalized in Clement Clarke Moore’s “A Visit From Saint Nicholas” in 1822 and in Washington Irving’s short Christmas stories.

Santa Claus by Thomas Nast

Nissembaum theorizes that Santa Claus served as a “Judgment Day” primer for children. Be good and get presents. Be bad and get coal. A more tangible way for parents to introduce their kids to Christian doctrine before jumping straight into Eternal Damnation. [The unintended flipside being that children, after learning “the truth” about Santa, may grow to apply the same lesson to the Judge Himself.]

Nearly 200 years later, through the miracle of modern technology we can track Santa’s journey in real time as he darts across six continents at 100 times the speed of a bullet train, according to the North American Air Defense Command, aka NORAD.

NORAD’s been tracking Santa’s Christmas Eve trips since 1955. According to legend, that was the year…

…a Sears store, at the time known as Sears Roebuck and Company, placed Christmas advertising that included a phone number where children could reach Santa Claus. The only problem was that the phone number was printed incorrectly.

wisegeek.com Why Does NORAD track Santa

Yes, the kids reached NORAD. Bombarded with calls, Air Defense personnel checked the radar and informed the children of Santa’s whereabouts.

As for me, I’m off to the land where the sugar-plums dance. So Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

The Truth about Santa – St Nick’s Eve

December 5

About this time of year parents deliberately wait in long lines in overcrowded shopping malls so their kids can sit on the lap of a fat red stranger.

Some cultures might call this odd. We call it Christmas.

Though the Christmas season begins commercially on Black Friday, and religiously on Advent, tonight kicks off the season for children in Europe, including the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, the Czech Republic, and Austria.

Saint Nicholas, 1838 - by Robert Weir

It’s St. Nicholas’ Eve, and though the date and the figure go by many names, the themes remain the same: kids and candy.

The jolly bearded guy known as Santa Claus in the United States is actually is an amalgamation of numerous folk figures.

The United States imported “Santa Claus” mainly from the Dutch Sinterklaas. Long before that, the Dutch learned of the saint, Saint Nicholas, from Spanish sailors, who believed Saint Nicholas had the power to save sailors by stemming storms at sea. Even today Sinterklaas arrives in Holland on or around November 17 each year, not on a sleigh from the North Pole, but on a ship from Spain.

No one would be more surprised at the role Santa plays in modern society than Saint Nicholas himself, who was actually a bishop in the ancient town of Myra, Turkey (then Asia Minor) around 300 AD.

Saint Nick, old skool

Saint Nicholas was imprisoned for 5 years for refusing to recognize the Roman Emperor Diocletian as a god. He was released after the Christian Emperor Constantine took the throne and removed Christianity from the Roman “terrorist watchlist.”

Today Saint Nicholas is remembered less for his role in destroying pagan temples than for his acts of kindness toward children. Like secretly giving poor families of young girls money for a dowry, so they could marry rather than become prostitutes.

Legends of Saint Nicholas’s devotion to the poor spread throughout the centuries. As his posthumous fame grew, children would leave their boots outside on St. Nicholas Eve in the hopes that St. Nick would fill them with goodies.

In Protestant Germany, Martin Luther replaced the Catholic gift-giving Saint Nicholas with the Christkindl, or “Christ Child.” Over time Christkindl’s name morphed to Krist Kindel. You may know him however as Kris Kringle.

In North America Santa Claus travels by reindeer-guided sleigh, while in Europe the gift-giver is accompanied by figures such as Zwarte Piet (Black Piet) or Krampus (The Claw), the latter being a goat-headed demonish entity who whips bad children with a switch. The Bad Cop to Santa’s Good Cop.

Whether you call him Santa, Kris Kindl, or Father Christmas, you better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why: Christmas is still 20 days out and believe me, you don’t want to end up on Krampus’s naughty list!


There Really is a Santa Claus – William Federer

Sankt Nikolaus und der Weihnachtsmann

Saint Nicholas Customs Around the World


St. Nicholas Day in Germany