Friday, December 6, 2013

Ironicean Advent Meditation #6: St. Nicholas Punch (and other crap on The History Channel)

St. Nicholas Punch (and other crap on The History Channel)

     Today is the feast of St. Nicholas, who never met a heretic he liked, and, whose years of eating the Mediterranean diet, have kept him miraculously fit for over 1700 years.

     Many legends of Christmas and Advent have come from the authoritative details of St. Nicholas' life  passed down by infallible tradition despite the fact that there are no historical records of his actual existence.

     For example, the tradition of Christmas punch originated from the famous punch in the face Nicholas gave the awful heretic Arius at the Council of Nicea. Arius had the unmitigated gall to believe that Christ was inferior to his Father, or something, and had the misfortune not to see good Saint Nick's left hook until it was too late. Mary and Jesus thereafter appeared to say that it was ok for Nicholas to beat up heretics. Since Nicholas was only a bishop then and not a saint yet, this probably helped out his cause. In defense of Arius, let me add, that my research indicates that Arius only meant that Christ was inferior to Christ's Father, and Nicholas, who never was a very good listener, thought Arius meant that Christ was inferior to Arius' own father.

     Another charming tradition, that of children leaving treats for the hungry St. Nicholas comes, undoubtedly, from the lovely story of the charitable but hungry Nicholas resurrecting three children who had been slaughtered and pickled in whatever you pickle things in. By a very bad person, probably a heretic. Anyway, Nicholas opened, the jar, the children miraculously glugged out “don’t eat us,” and the rest is mystery. Or maybe it was something else.

     The little-known tradition (outside of this biography) of St. Nicholas putting fish in the stockings of Dutch children evolved from the fact that St. Nicholas was always celebrated as the patron saint of sailors and fishermen. And I guess, the Dutch figured he's bring them fish because of that. Well, maybe he left coal, but I really don't see what that has to die with fisherman and sailors.

     Finally, and most importantly, my historical research has cleared up one previous misinterpretation of the name of the modern Santa Claus. Rather than the far-fetched and rather baroque linguistic tricks which have, supposedly, linked Saint Nicholas to the Dutch Sinter Klass and finally to the American Santa Claus (really? what happened to the R?), a much simpler explanation has turned up just in the nick of Central Time.

     The early colonists in the U.S. brought their own interesting customs (and linguistic weirdness) from the home country. It seems that, in the Anglo-Norman period in England, the homely tradition had been for the Father Christmas figure to run through the village naked on Christmas Eve. No one can say exactly why this is, since it was awfully cold out, but one assumes it was a great privilege to be chosen for the role.

     As he would run through the hills and dells or whatever they called them in the Anglo-Norman countryside, the people, especially the children, got a big kick out of yelling "sans vêtements, sans vêtements!" Of course, the older folks, who still remembered the good old days before the conquest when English was English and vowels were much harder to come by, would spit on such a phrase and shout instead, "sans clath, sans clath." "Clath" (modern cloth and clothes) came from the proto-Germanic root meaning something like "that which sticks." So did the name, down to this day. Of course, everyone likes "sans.” That was one improvement the Saxons couldn’t do without without.

     Obviously, during the Victorian era (those prudes), the ruddy-skinned naked freezing gift-giver, known for centuries as "Sans the Clothes," was replaced by a fat man dressed in a red garment. They assumed he must be fat because of all the pickles, punch, and fish. 

     The idea that eating turkey for Christmas somehow relates to the fact that St. Nicholas hailed from what is now the nation of Turkey has been suggested (by one of the voices, a few minutes ago). But that would be stupid. 

For more interesting facts on St. Nicholas, you can go to the link for my Ironic Advent Meditation about him last year. Which might contradict this one.

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