Have you ever wondered what the relationship was between the baby Jesus and a clinically-obese bearded guy in a red suit?
The obvious answer is, nothing at all. But, a bit like last year’s fairy lights, there’s always a loose connection.
Of course, the entire Christmas story is suspect from the start. The New Testament gives no date for the birth of Jesus. And, according to eminent Israeli meteorologists, it couldn’t have been in December when it would have been way too cold for shepherds to be abiding in the Judean fields, watching their flocks by night.
Until 4AD, December 25th was the last day of Saturnalia, a wild pagan winter solstice celebration in honour of the agricultural god Saturn, involving wholesale drunkenness and debauchery.
(So not too much has changed, then…)
But early Church spin doctors had other ideas. They allowed the pagans their bit of fun provided they converted to Christianity and wound up the party from December 25th onward, which became Jesus’ birthday, while the old fertility rituals were given a different twist.
But none of it worked. Who among us doesn’t like to get a little bit naughty under the mistletoe today?
While some of us (the Catalans) have added their own spin that is really very naughty indeed.
I’ll break it to you gently.
It’s the one time of year that children are allowed … nay, actively encouraged … by their parents … to use the ‘Sh’ word.
I refer to a caricature of the Yule log that is known to Catalan children everywhere as Caga Tió. That’s Sh*t Log in English (or, for more delicate sensibilities, Poop Log), probably so-named due to a visual similarity.
But let’s not go there. (It certainly put me off buying another Bûche de Noël).
Throughout December, Catalan children look after this sh*t-shaped log which has a face and wears a silly hat. They keep it warm under a blanket and feed it fruit and nuts so that, on Christmas Eve, it will ‘poop’ presents when given a good thrashing with a stick.
While they’re doing this, Mums and Dads join them in this charming little song:
avellanes i mató,
si no cagues bé
et daré un cop de bastó.
hazelnuts and cottage cheese,
if you don’t poop well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
They’re a weird lot, the Catalans …but then, a lot of them come from Barcelona…
In case you don’t believe me, listen to Norah Jones singing her own version of Caga Tío on the American travel and food show, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservation.
But this still doesn’t explain why we annually pay homage to a fat man in a red fur-trimmed jumpsuit.
Santa’s inspiration is credited to the 4th century Bishop Nicholas of Myra, champion of prostitutes. According to legend, the saintly bishop saved three impoverished young women of the parish from a life of ‘penal servitude’ (as it were) by tossing gold coins down their chimney so they could marry with a dowry.
(Point of interest: Myra, then, is roughly equivalent to Turkey, now, but has nothing to do with the eponymous feathered creatures we ritually slaughter at this time of year).
The Nicholas cult spread north where he shed his Mediterranean appearance, grew a beard, mounted a flying horse and rescheduled his flight for December. Meanwhile, over in America …
So now you know why we all grow up believing that Santa is ‘The Real Thing’!
Keep the faith! Look what happens if you don’t.
A Tragic Christmas Story
It’s the kind of news no parent wants their child to hear … and certainly not from a vicar.
But during Christmas Week 2002, a certain Reverend Lee Rayfield stood at the lectern of St. Mary’s Church in Maidenhead and told his congregation that Santa Claus was dead.
He said (quoting an Internet joke) that it would be scientifically impossible for Father Christmas to deliver so many presents in one night because he would need to travel at 3,000 times the speed of sound. At that rate he would be crushed by 4.315,000 pounds of force and his reindeer would be vapourised.
The children were traumatised. The adults were pretty upset too.
“I appreciate I have put some parents in a difficult position with a lot of explaining to do,” apologised the vicar, a master of understatement.
A schoolchild once wrote in his English essay: Christmas is a three day festival dedicated to the birth of Bing Crosby.
But White Christmas isn’t the only modern symbol that has become inextricably but inexplicably entwined with The Nativity.
The bible makes no mention of Joseph rushing out to catch the Christmas post. In those days they had angels to spread tidings of great joy.
Today we have meerkats.
Sir Henry Cole, first director of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, is to blame for inventing the Christmas card and giving us all a really tedious chore at this time of year. I’m not saying it had anything to do with his knighthood but, as the Penny Post had been introduced three years earlier, someone must have been ho-h-ho-ing all the way to the bank.
Today, only one in 100 cards depict imagery relating to Jesus. No, make that ‘relating to Jesus in any religious way’ because Cheeses of Nazareth is tipped to be this year’s top seller from the high street and online card retailer, www.scribbler.com
I could go on about Christmas symbolism but this is a post, not a novel. So if you want to know why we religiously eat Brussels sprouts and turkey on December 25th (when none of us really enjoy them), you’ll have to wait until next year.
But I wonder, what will historians make of our own quirky traditions in the next millennium? Will they understand why we all danced our socks off to little shiny discs entitled Wombling Merry Christmas?
Or will they simply put it down to an ancient pagan fertility ritual?
Finally, do you know why we put a fairy on top of the Christmas tree?
Neither do I but I did enjoy the following explanation …
The Origin of the Tree Fairy
One Christmas long ago, Santa was very stressed out. His chief elves were on strike, his trainee elves weren’t producing toys fast enough, Rudolph was lame and, to cap it all, his mother-in-law was coming to stay.
Santa wasn’t in the best moods.
Just as he was tying a particularly tricky parcel knot, the doorbell rang. Santa cursed and went to the door to find a little fairy carrying a massive Christmas tree, chirruping cheerfully away: “Merry Christmas Santa. Isn’t it a lovely day? I’ve brought this beautiful tree for you to decorate. Hey, why the long face, Santa? Smile – it may never happen! After all, it is Christmas! Now where would you like me to put it?”
Santa growled and showed her.
Thus began the tradition of the little fairy on top of the Christmas tree.
For more festive fun, check out Home or Away for Christmas?