Tag Archives: Santa Claus

“Bad Santas” Advent Calendar Day 21 – The ‘Shit Log’

6 (chapter6_end illustraton)

 

Those of you who read my post about the Caganer might think that having a Christmas tradition based around defecation is slightly unusual. But how about having two Christmas traditions based around defecation? For the caganer is not the only scatological tradition that the Catalans enjoy. There is also the Tió de Nadal – a rather unique Catalan Christmas log.

In fact, the Tió de Nadal gives the phrase ‘Christmas log’ a whole new meaning. It is, as you might assume, a hollow piece of wood. Originally this would have been a simple log but these days it is commercially produced and often has a pair of forearms, a cartoon face and a traditional Catalan hat. The log sits in or near the fireplace from around 8 December and, rather than being burned on the fire like a normal log, it is covered with a blanket to keep it warm. Children are encouraged to be kind to the log and to feed it and treat it well. And children know they have to follow this instruction – for the Tió de Nadal is actually a highly unusual festive gift-giver and children know that the kindness they show to their festive log will lead to them being rewarded with presents.  So children offer food to the log, placing it on or underneath the blanket. By the next morning the parents have taken the food and the children find that it has ‘mysteriously’ disappeared.

Finally on Christmas Day – or sometimes Christmas Eve – the ceremony of the Tió de Nadal begins. The children are given a stick and are encouraged to beat the log repeatedly whilst singing the songs of Tió de Nadal, which crudely implore the log to excrete presents for the family.

The songs tend to have translations that involve slightly unusual language for a children’s ceremony.

For example:

Shit log, shit me a gift

Shit me turrón[1] and shit me sweets,

If you don’t shit well,

I’ll hit you with a stick, shit log!

 

Upon hearing the song, and being beaten repeatedly, the log will excrete one gift at a time. These are usually small treats such as sweets and chocolate that the parents have concealed inside the log or under the blanket. The adult reaches under the blanket and ‘finds’ what the Tió de Nadal has excreted. A great play is made of the effort the log has gone to in order to produce the gift and then the next child (if there is more than one) takes their turn to beat the log and chant for a gift to be ‘shat’ out. And so on and so on until there are a number of sweets and chocolates for the family to share.

The ceremony ends when the log no longer produces sweets but instead excretes something sharper – usually a herring or a bulb of garlic. This means the log has run dry for the year and the ceremony is over.

 

Bad Santas and Other Creepy Christmas Characters is available now from Simon & Schuster.  The Illustration above is by Melissa Four and is taken from the book.


[1] A Spanish delicacy that’s a bit like nougat.

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“Bad Santas…” Advent Calendar Day 20 – The Christ Child

Kindl1

(Sorry this is a day late!)

The Christ Child was an impressively literal creation. Quite simply, it was the baby Jesus, freshly out of his manger and clad in white, who went round Germany and other Lutheran territories delivering gifts to children. The idea was that this was a spiritual figure who would teach children the true meaning of Christmas.

There were several problems with this.

The first one was a literal one. The baby Jesus was born on Christmas Day. And delivered the presents on Christmas Eve. This meant that somehow or other, the baby had to either pop out of Mary’s womb pre-birth for a quick bit of gift-giving or somehow, post-birth, travel back in time twenty-four hours and then travel round the world handing out gifts. Before being able to eat or speak. Even for a miracle-worker it made very little sense.

Secondly, the whole thing was a bit hard to visualise. How on earth does a baby deliver gifts? Between the inability to walk and the inability to carry things, it seemed doomed from the off.

Thirdly, the whole appeal – and admittedly terror – of St Nicholas was that he burst into the room in full view of everyone and made a public show of bringing the gifts. Obviously this required an adult family member or neighbour to play St Nicholas and visit children. Clearly the same could not happen for the Christkind. An adult turning up dressed as a baby would have been unconvincing and strangely unfestive. So the tradition had to be rewritten so that the Christkind appeared in the dead of night whilst all children were asleep and delivered the presents incognito.

Fourthly, the Lutherans made a fundamental miscalculation. Moving the present-giving from 6 December to Christmas Day might help increase the significance of Christmas Day but it also increased the significance of giving presents on Christmas Day. Ultimately Luther’s plan to popularise giving gifts at Christmas instead of other times served to, well, popularise giving gifts at Christmas. The Lutherans basically managed to accidentally invent the very focus on the material side of Christmas that they were trying to destroy!

The Christ Child did remain a giftgiver in parts of Central Europe but over time his image began to change.  People began to realise that, whilst you could not dress a grown adult up as a baby, you could dress up a child (usually a girl) might be happy to dress as an angel.  So the Christ-child morphed into an angel and continues to exist in parts of Europe today.  Meanwhile the German for Christ-child – Chirstkindl has morphed into Kris Kringle, another name for Santa in parts of the US.

 

“Bad Santas and Other Creepy Christmas Characters” is available now from Simon & Schuster.  The image at the top is taken from http://www.patheos.com/blogs/panmankey/2013/12/beyond-santa-claus-the-other-gift-givers/

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“Bad Santas…” Advent Calendar Day 14 – The Christmas Man

il_570xN.504983817_h3bj

The Christmas Man’s name was fantastically literal; he was a man who gave gifts at Christmas. As it turned out he was a bearded old man, much like St Nicholas. He called into houses to hand out presents to children who had behaved, much like St Nicholas. And he carried a birch rod to beat naughty children, much like St Nicholas.

However, the crucial thing for the Protestants was that he was most definitely not St Nicholas. In fact, he was most definitely not a saint at all. In order to definitely not be a saint, he definitely did not wear bishop’s robes or any other religious insignia. And he definitely did not deliver presents on St Nicholas’s Day. Like the Christkind, he instead delivered them on Christmas Day. Which definitely made him the Christmas Man. Definitely, definitely, definitely not St Nicholas. Nope. All similarities to St Nicholas were entirely coincidental. Definitely.

“Bad Santas and Other Creepy Christmas Characters” is available now from Simon & Schuster.  The image above was lying about on my hard drive and I’ve completely forgotten where I got it from.  If it belongs to you then drop me  a line and I’ll amend this to give you credit.

 

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“Bad Santas…” Advent Calendar: Day 13 – Lussinatta

In Norway and Sweden 13 December is St Lucia’s Day. St Lucia is represented as a beautiful young woman and the day is marked by a procession. A local girl is selected to play the saint. She dresses in white with a red sash and wears a crown of candles on her head. She will parade through the town followed by a series of similarly white-clad girls, each clutching one candle and singing songs dedicated to the saint.

Although St Lucia (or St Lucy) is indeed a historical saint, this is actually a relatively recent celebration which began in Sweden in the eighteenth or nineteenth century. But Norway actually celebrated a Lucia (or Lussi) centuries earlier, albeit in a very different form. For the night before 13 December was the Lussinatta or Lucy Night. This was the night when evil spirits and demons rose up to wander the Earth.

In these wanderings, Lussi was a hideously evil she-demon with magical powers. She was said to ride through the skies on a broomstick accompanied by demons, evil spirits and trolls, spreading mayhem and chaos wherever she went. Children needed to be good and the adults needed to ward off evil by protecting their homes with the sign of the cross. Otherwise Lussi would make her move – destroying property, crops or livestock, and kidnapping or killing misbehaving children.

“Bad Santas and Other Creepy Christmas Characters” by Paul Hawkins is available now and published by Simon & Schuster.  I’m not really sure where the picture comes from and feel slightly guilty about purloining it but it seemed rather good for what I wanted…

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“Bad Santas…” Advent Calendar Day 10: The Christkind

Christkind

The Christkind (or Christ Child) was an impressively literal creation. Quite simply, it was the baby Jesus, freshly out of his manger and clad in white, who went round Germany and other Lutheran territories delivering gifts to children. The idea was that this was a spiritual figure who would teach children the true meaning of Christmas.

There were several problems with this.

The first one was a literal one. The baby Jesus was born on Christmas Day. And delivered the presents on Christmas Eve. This meant that somehow or other, the baby had to either pop out of Mary’s womb pre-birth for a quick bit of gift-giving or somehow, post-birth, travel back in time twenty-four hours and then travel round the world handing out gifts. Before being able to eat or speak. Even for a miracle-worker it made very little sense.

Secondly, the whole thing was a bit hard to visualise. How on earth does a baby deliver gifts? Between the inability to walk and the inability to carry things, it seemed doomed from the off.

Thirdly, the whole appeal – and admittedly terror – of St Nicholas was that he burst into the room in full view of everyone and made a public show of bringing the gifts. Obviously this required an adult family member or neighbour to play St Nicholas and visit children. Clearly the same could not happen for the Christkind. An adult turning up dressed as a baby would have been unconvincing and strangely unfestive. So the tradition had to be rewritten so that the Christkind appeared in the dead of night whilst all children were asleep and delivered the presents incognito.

Fourthly, the Lutherans made a fundamental miscalculation. Moving the present-giving from 6 December to Christmas Day might help increase the significance of Christmas Day but it also increased the significance of giving presents on Christmas Day. Ultimately Luther’s plan to popularise giving gifts at Christmas instead of other times served to, well, popularise giving gifts at Christmas. The Lutherans basically managed to accidentally invent the very focus on the material side of Christmas that they were trying to destroy!

Bad Santas and Other Creepy Christmas Characters by Paul Hawkins is available now from Simon & Schuster.  The image at the top of the page is available under a Creative Commons license. 

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Bad Santas Advent Calendar Day 9 – Christmas in America

the-eggnog-riot

Christmas had enjoyed a chequered history in America. When the first Europeans fled there to escape religious persecution, many brought with them the traditions of misrule and chaos that had shaped the Christmas of the Middle Ages. The southern states had carried on celebrations much as their ancestors had before the Reformation with drinking, feasting, dancing, wild partying and – this being America – gunfire. Like in England, masked working-class revellers would wander from house to house demanding food and drink and threatening destruction.

In the North, colonies such as New England were founded by Puritans, so Christmas was largely opposed – and even banned outright – well into the nineteenth century. Although America’s foundation was hugely influenced by religious exiles fleeing persecution, it was not always the same religious exiles or beliefs. This was not too much of a problem at first – colonies were set up by people with shared beliefs and attitudes and America was too vast and sparsely populated for the different factions to need to mingle together. Tensions increased as American cities expanded in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. By the beginning of the nineteenth century there were particular difficulties in the cities of the northeast such as Boston, Philadelphia and New York.

The essential problem was a class divide. Working-class revellers would roam the streets at Christmas forming calithump bands – impromptu and tuneless orchestras of drunks with horns, whistles and pots and pans – making as much noise as possible. Mumming was popular and even today Philadelphia still celebrates New Year’s Day with a Mummers’ Parade. They would visit middle-class houses and put on bawdy shows with lewd jokes before demanding hospitality and gifts in return. The middle classes wanted peace and relaxation with their families. They did not welcome visits from drunken oiks swearing, drinking and putting on vulgar shows, especially when this unpleasantness was compounded by being asked to hand out gifts and food to the very people who were pestering them.

What’s more, drunken Christmas riots were a frequent occurrence. Perhaps the most vivid example was in 1826 when cadets at the US Military Academy in New York were banned from drinking at Christmas. A few decided to do so anyway but slipped a bit too much whisky in their eggnog. What began with nine cadets having a quiet drink on Christmas Eve ended up with a lieutenant knocked unconscious and one third of the cadets taking up arms against their superiors in the mistaken belief that they were about to be assaulted by the full might of the US Army.

“Bad Santas and Other Creepy Christmas Characters” is available now from Simon and Schuster.   The picture at the top is allegedly a painting of the Eggnog Riots but I’m not entirely sure who painted it and can only presume they captured it in its very early stages…

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“Bad Santas…Advent Calendar” Day Seven – Black Peter

2 (chapter2_end illustraton)

To some, Black Peter was simply a brutal Moorish servant that St Nicholas had acquired. To others he was Satan himself, who had been captured and subjugated by St Nicholas and compelled to do his bidding. What was certain was that he was both vicious and single-minded in his determination to punish misbehaving children. A beating from Black Peter was said to be far more severe and brutal than any discipline the child had ever received before. If a child sufficiently angered St Nicholas for him to demand that Black Peter take the child away in his sack then the child would be trapped in Hell for an entire year, only getting the chance to repent the following Christmas.

Early depictions of Black Peter saw performers portray him by blacking their hands and faces with soot. This is certainly politically incorrect and a bit tasteless by modern standards. However – if you accept the idea of Black Peter being the Devil rather than a Moorish servant – the similarities to the image of someone ‘blacking up’ could be dismissed as an unfortunate coincidence. In the Middle Ages there was no universally accepted idea of what the Devil looked like but he was often depicted as being black in colour, perhaps because he was perceived as an evil figure strongly associated with shadows and darkness.

The nineteenth century saw a change in how Black Peter was portrayed. This was the time when Christmas experienced a major renaissance during which many medieval traditions were reinvented with a modern twist. It was also the height of colonialism and centuries of slaving trading had ensured non-white people were seen as inferior to Europeans, perhaps even less than human, and certainly ripe for mocking and satire. The person playing Black Peter began to take things a bit further and created the image hat largely remains to this day. Not only would the performer blacken all visible skin but he also donned pink lipstick and an Afro wig and wore garish jewellery. His behaviour and demeanour was fierce and primal and he was presented as a violent ‘untamed savage’, bound up with chains and clearly subservient to St Nicholas, his dominant ‘master’.

Critics of the character argue that such an overtly racial image is a throwback to the days of slavery and colonialism. They believe the clear stereotyping in Black Peter’s appearance can only be a symbol of racism that both offends and excludes the black population that makes up a sizable part of the country today.

Many modern-day Dutch people are keen to preserve the tradition of Zwarte Piet and  insist that they are preserving existing traditions rather than attempting to cause racial offence, explaining that the character is black because he is covered in soot from climbing up and down chimneys. However, it is very difficult to disassociate his appearance from similar racial caricatures such as minstrels and golliwogs and it is extremely difficult to believe prejudice played no part in how his image was created in the nineteenth century.

In 2011 the former Dutch colony of Suriname banned depictions of Zwarte Piet in public and the same year Amsterdam city councillor Andrée Van Es became the first high-profile politician to publicly denounce the character. Attempts have also been made to portray Peter in different-coloured make-up such as blue, green and yellow. Nonetheless, the traditions have proved hard to shake off. Van Es was heavily criticised by Dutch traditionalists and an experiment by Dutch public broadcasters NPS to portray a rainbow-coloured Peter lasted only a year before he reverted back to his blackface origins. Meanwhile, the Dutch community in Vancouver were so vexed by the controversy over their use of Zwarte Piet in their annual Christmas celebrations in 2011 that local authorities decided to cancel them entirely, rather than make the decision to phase out the character. For now, however, Peter still appears in his blackface guise to play a major part in Christmas celebrations in the Netherlands itself.

“Bad Santas and Other Creepy Christmas Characters” is published by Simon & Schuster and available now.  The illustration is by Mel Four and is taken from the book.

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