Scary Facts about
Christmastime is nearly upon us, and to help celebrate I’ve dredged up some
macabre facts about the most “wonderful time of the year” that you might not be
Is Santa really an anagram of Satan? Many
people think so, citing the fact that Santa is often referred to as “Jolly Old
St. Nick,” just as the Devil was once known as “Old Nick” (never mind that
Saint Nicholas was a real historical figure, as outlined below).
Others claim Santa hails from the opposite end of the spectrum, as
exemplified by his similarities to Zeus, or Odin, identified in Norse mythology
as the “God of the sky.” Like Santa Claus, Odin ruled from the far North, had
an “All-Seeing Eye” (“He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re
awake...”) and gave gifts at Yuletide to those who honored him. Those
honorees, BTW, did so at the site of a sacred fir tree not unlike the ones under
which we lay gifts each year.
This latter interpretation inflates Mr. Claus to literal Godlike status,
which would have him battling Satan (as he does in the bizarre Mexican fantasy
Makes sense, as in some cultures it’s believed that Santa actually made the
Devil his Christmas-time slave. Note also Santa’s alternate moniker Kris
Kringle, said to be taken from the German Christkindel, which means, literally,
Another possible forerunner of Santa Claus is the Biblical figure
Nimrod. After his death Nimrod’s mother Ester (the
source of the holiday Easter), allegedly had an evergreen tree planted at his
burial site and ordered everyone in the kingdom to decorate it on Nimrod’s
Nimrod was described as a “Mighty hunter before the lord,” but was also
known for less-than-honorable acts like attempting, and failing, to construct
giant Tower of Babel (which pissed off God to no end) and impregnating his own mother!
While on the subject of Santa’s origins, I’ll have to give a shout out
to Jouluppukki, or Yule Goat. According to a very old Finnish legend, this
figure was a supernaturally endowed gnome who rode atop some sort of beast from
out of the North to demand gifts from people--and if they failed to cough up
he’d wreak all sorts of horrific mayhem. Somehow or other this monster
seems to have morphed
into the jolly fat guy we know today.
A related tradition from Iceland posits that a family of thirteen ogres
called Jolasveinar, or the “Yule Lads” (each with his own distinct personality)
would actually devour children if the gifts offered weren’t to their liking.
The Yule Lads are still spoken of in some cultures, although the rough edges
have been sanded down considerably.
Yourself a Pagan Christmas
It’s a widely known fact that the tradition of Christmas is descended
from ancient Pagan rituals, notably the Fertility Festival. This celebration,
involving copious food, drink and orgies a‘plenty, fell on the 24th
of December, the shortest day of the year. December 25 was venerated as
the “birth” of the sun, or the start of the days growing progressively longer.
As I’m sure most of us are now aware, December 25 was NOT the actual birth
of Christ (which is believed to fall somewhere in July), yet in 350 A.D. Pope
Julius I decreed that it would be celebrated on that date. A shrewd decision,
as it combined the Pagan and Christian festivals (essentially making the Sun and
the Son one and the same) and appears to have succeeded in inspiring people to
join the Catholic Church--apparently the Pope’s main goal all along.
Incidentally, the tradition of Yuletide cookie making reportedly began in
Finland with eight carefully cut cookies, including one whose shape
(representing the power “Hel”) corresponds directly to that of the present-day
True Spirit of Christmas?
One of the wilder accounts of the origins of Santa
Claus, along with his eight reindeer and practice of entering homes through chimneys, comes from
the Sami People of Lapland. In this region grows a poisonous mushroom that
local shamans once fed to reindeer. The animals’ intestinal tracts filtered out
the poison so that the 'shroom’s remains, in the form of reindeer urine, were
fit to be imbibed. The resulting hallucinogenic trips had the
shamans reportedly flying through the sky and returning to their bodies via
I have no idea how much of this account is true, or what degree of
influence it actually had on modern Christmas traditions, but I really,
really want to believe it!
Nicholas, Patron Saint of Pawn Brokers
St. Nicholas, as stated above, was an actual historical figure who
lived in the region of modern-day Turkey during the Third Century A.D. A man of
deep faith known for his boundless charity and generosity, St. Nick established
many of our most cherished holiday traditions, including the name Santa Claus,
which began as a mispronunciation of Sinterklaas, a Dutch contraction of Saint
The tradition that most concerns us is that of leaving out stockings on
Christmas Eve, which emerges from a (probably apocryphal) story of how St. Nick
helped out three poverty-stricken sisters by tossing bags of gold through each
of the girls’ windows at night. This is indeed how the
stockings-on-the-mantelpiece tradition got started, but it’s also the source of
the three gold balls symbol adopted by pawn-brokers the world over, for whom St.
Nick was the patron saint.
Christmas in Hungary
In Hungary Santa Claus is known as Mikulas, or “Winter Godfather,” and
celebrated via an elaborate series of rituals beginning on December 5, when
children take special baths so they’ll be extra clean for Mikulas’ arrival.
They also put out shoes for him to fill with goodies (in observance of the
“three gold bags” tale outlined above). But here’s the thing: only good
children get the goodies. The bad ones get a golden birch so they can be
Speaking of which...
European folklore has it that several companions travel with Santa on
Christmas Eve. These not-so-nice helpers carry a rod (with which to beat unruly
children) and a sack (to kidnap especially bad kids). These include Knecht
Ruprecht, or Servent Ruprecht, and the horned incubus Krampus. It’s apparently
a tradition in Germany for young men to dress up like Krampus and scare people
during the first two weeks of December.
And we mustn’t forget Zwarte Piet, or Black Peter.
Perhaps the most famous of Santa’s companions, this personage is especially
prevalent in the Netherlands and Flanders. The Black in his name isn’t
accidental, as Black Peter was originally rendered according to bug-eyed,
big-lipped “Darkie” stereotypes. Some traditions depict BP as a devil and
others a loyal helper, but most of them appear to agree on the fact that Black
Peter is a profoundly evil individual.
I’m sure most if not all of us have
suffered through a lifetime's worth of obnoxious sugar-coated holiday themed songs, books and movies over the
years (“Twas the Night Before Christmas,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” HOW
THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS, etc). For those of you desiring holiday-themed
entertainment with a little more bite, there exist quite a few viable
To every Yin there is a Yang, as proven by
Christmas horror movies
like BLACK CHRISTMAS, SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT and DAY OF THE BEAST, all of
which provide a solid tonic to the likes of FROSTY THE SNOWMAN and HOME ALONE. So too books
like Robert Devereaux’s SANTA
STEPS OUT and Thomas Canty and Phil Hale’s unforgettable illustrated
poem A MONSTER AT
Christmas ain’t all sweetness and light, as
the above should conclusively demonstrate. I feel confident that between the
Devil, pagan rituals, magic mushrooms, corrupt Santa figures, child abuse,
incest and scary movies, the Christmas holiday truly offers something for
Sources: associatedcontent.com, wikipedia.com, efl.htmlplanet.com/xmas.htm,
livinginblack.ning.com/forum/topics/on-nimrod-christmas-and-easter, and Adam
Parfrey’s article “Jesus/Lucifer, Santa/Satan” in APOCALYPSE CULTURE II (Feral