The History of St. Nick & Other Stuff

Merry Christmas
One for da ladies. And, just for the holidays, we can pretend that they’re all straight. We can also pretend I’m the third one from the left.
It’s very weird getting asked if I can “reprint” something that only exists digitally. But, what the foschnizzle, it’s Christmas so here you go.

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I received a lovely email yesterday from a regular reader. She said some very nice things about me and life in general and then got to the point. The point was that, as informative as this week’s articles have been about the holidays, I was “depressing the (expletive deleted) out of (her).” I guess I can see that. The history of Christmas is one of political compromise, violence and drunken debauchery. Not exactly the first thoughts that spring to mind when you think about ways to celebrate the birth of the Son of God. More likely a way to celebrate a frat party in honor of Biff’s trust fund. But it is what it is. Denying history doesn’t make it suddenly disappear, despite what you may hear from some recent political pundits. Nevertheless, she’s right. There are many aspects of the holiday that are cause for smiles. Honest ones too, not just the rueful ones I usually inspire.

We’ll start with some useless trivia.

Where did the Candy Cane come from? In a small Indiana town, there was a candymaker who wanted to spread the name of Jesus around the world. He invented the Christmas Candy Cane, incorporating symbols for the birth, ministry, and death of Jesus Christ. He began with a stick of pure white, hard candy to symbolize the Virgin Birth. The candymaker formed the stick into a “J” to represent the name of Jesus. It can also represent the staff of the “Good Shepherd.” He thought the candy was too plain so he stained it with a red stripe to symbolize the blood shed by Christ on the cross.

Christmas Games – Weird Ones
Shoe the Wild Mare
Shoeing the Wild Mare is a traditional Christmas game that goes back to at least the early 17th century.

Get a narrow(a few inches wide), strong wooden beam and suspend it from the roof with two even length ropes. The beam is the ‘mare’ of the title and should be level yet high enough above the floor so that a player’s feet are off-ground. A player ‘the farrier’ then sits on the ‘mare’ in the centre, a leg either side. This player has a hammer and has to give the underside of the beam “four time eight blows” at a designated spot. If he falls off, it is someone else’s turn.

Much hilarity, and the odd broken shoulder ensues. (Odd broken shoulders????)

Snapdragons
Apparently this is the best game ever to play on Christmas Eve. Make sure you have the fire department on speed dial though.

Very popular from the 16th to the 19th centuries, Snapdragons (or Flapdragons) has explicably declined in popularity.

Gather everyone around the dining room table, place a large flat dish in the centre. In the dish scatter a good handful of raisins then pour on top a layer of brandy or cognac. Set fire to the brandy and dim the lights. Players take it in turns to pluck a raisin out of the burning liquid and eat it quickly down. For a more competitive edge to the game use larger dried fruit such as apricots, one of which has a lucky sixpence stuffed inside.

Equipment needed: plate, matches, raisins, brandy, address of nearest accident and emergency department

I have actually played Snapdragons. It was how I learned to use saliva to quickly douse my tongue. Oddly enough, and this will be a blog for another day, that knowledge has proved useful.

Here’s some other useless trivia for you. In case Christmas isn’t violent enough for you there’s another game, called “Hot Cockles” which can make your week. One person gets blindfolded and then players give a blow to the blindfolded player, who had to guess the name of the person who gave the blow.

Whee!

Okay, let’s move on to some fun facts about Christmas trees.

Which actually had nothing to do with Christmas for centuries.

  • The use of evergreen trees to celebrate the winter season occurred before the birth of Christ.
  • The first decorated Christmas was in Riga, Latvia in 1510.
  • The first printed reference to Christmas trees appeared in Germany in 1531.
  • Nineteenth century Americans cut their trees in nearby forests.
  • Christmas trees have been sold commercially in the United states since about 1850. Until fairly recently, all Christmas trees came from the forest. (ED: Not from a parking lot?)
  • The first Christmas tree retail lot in the United States was started in 1851 in New York by Mark Carr.
  • In 1900, large stores started to erect big illuminated Christmas trees.
  • In 1856 Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the United States, was the first President to place a Christmas tree in the White House.
  • President Coolidge started the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on the White House lawn in 1923.
  • Teddy Roosevelt banned the Christmas tree from the White House for environmental reasons.
  • In 1984, the National Christmas was lit on December 13th with temperatures in the 70’s, making it one of the warmest tree lightings in history.
  • Between 1887-1933 a fishing schooner called the “Christmas Ship” would tie up at the Clark Street bridge and sell spruce trees from Michigan to Chicagoans.

My grandmother used to talk about that ship. She said it was so laden with pine trees that you could smell it from blocks away.

Also, just so you know, all of Santa’s reindeer are chicks.

Anyway, here are ten meaningless facts that you’ll use to impress your friends at holiday parties.

ONE
What percentage of mall Santa applicants were discovered to have criminal backgrounds by Pre-employ.com?
7%

Approximate amount generated by photographs with Santa in shopping malls in the USA in dollars:
$2,255,750,000

TWO
How many houses must Santa visit on Christmas?
842,000,000

How fast must he travel to visit all those homes?
4,796,250 Mph

THREE
Percentage of Americans who believe Santa in the off-season drives a sports car:
4%

drives an SUV:
25%

FOUR
How many presents would you receive if you were to get every present in “The 12 Days of Christmas”?
364

How much would all those gifts cost? (according to PNC Financial Services)
$18348.87

FIVE
Percentage of Americans who finish off their Christmas Shopping on Christmas Eve:
20

SIX
Percentage of pet owners who have their dog or cat pose and photographed with Santa Claus:
27

SEVEN
Percentage of Americans who re-gift:
28

EIGHT
Which type of Christmas tree is displayed more during the holiday season, artificial or real?
Artificial trees are the most popular with 40,694,463 on display in comparison to real trees at 34,335,809

NINE
How many Barbie dolls are sold every minute around the world?
180

TEN
How much trash is generated annually from the gift wrap and shopping bags:
4,000,000 Tons

So, burning question of the day, why does Santa wear red? Well, it’s a Catholic thing. You see, Santa is based, in part, on the life of St. Nicholas and he was the bishop of Smyrna, a spot in modern day Turkey. Bishops wore, and still wear, red capes. Then red was the way Norman Rockwell saw it, and red was the color Coca-Cola wanted when it pretty much created the modern image of Santa in 1931. So, Santa wears red.

Got it?

Cool.

Also, he is, depending on where you’re at at the moment, the patron saint of banking, pawnbroking, pirating, butchery, sailing, thievery, orphans, royalty, and New York City, thus making him the most popular, non-biblical, saint in history. Saint Valentine is a distant second.

Some other stuff that will make our reader feel a little better about the holiday. Contrary to popular belief, suicide rates during the Christmas holiday are low. The highest rates are during the spring.

One reason may be that Christmas has better music. It is estimated that the single “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin is the best selling single of all time, with over 100 million sales worldwide and that 50 million of those sales were of the Bing Crosby version.

Bing’s daughter starred in Star Trek and had sex with an android in one episode.

That has nothing to do with the topic at hand, I just thought I’d share.

I will end this blog with a dinner prayer by cartoonist Berke Breathed.

“Dear Lord, I’ve been asked, nay commanded, to thank thee for the Christmas turkey before us — a turkey which was no doubt a lively, intelligent bird — a social being capable of actual affection, nuzzling its young with almost human-like compassion. Anyway, it’s dead and we’re gonna eat it. Please give our respects to its family.”


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