Home / News / From ‘Soviet Santa’ to Red-Faced Devils: Choose Your Own Christmas Adventure

From ‘Soviet Santa’ to Red-Faced Devils: Choose Your Own Christmas Adventure

Photo Credit: By Anton Watman / Shutterstock.com

Where we live, in the Alps of executive Europe, there are 3 rival Dec traditions involving benevolent, bearded gift-bringers. With a span of immature daughters to train in the beloved mythology of the season, we find myself getting confused as to which tales to spin. we can only suppose how treacherous this must be to a three- and a four-year-old.

First, the basics. Dec 6 is Saint Nicholas Day, or where we live, Sveti Miklavž. It’s the saint day of a Greek bishop of Myra (born circa 270 AD), one whose autobiography is full of just the arrange of story that warms the heart and brings a sip of Christmas cheer. The many renouned Saint Nicholas story by the Middle Ages tells of how the bishop entered an motel and immediately sensed that the innkeeper had — wait for it — murdered and dismembered many children and placed their skeleton in barrels to plight in the groundwork (and, one can only imagine, offer to oblivious business as a holiday special). No consternation he was selected to get into the Christmas spirit.

The other, gift-related story about Saint Nicholas is only somewhat reduction grim. An old man, incompetent to means a dowry for his 3 daughters to marry, nor even the opening price compulsory for them to enter a nunnery, and apparently fervent to get them all out of the house, dynamic that he would have to spin them into — wait for it — prostitutes. Nicholas listened of this and, having hereditary family wealth, was dynamic to discharge it in a growth munificent fashion. He placed bullion coins in stockings and hung them outward the man’s home (or, depending on the chronicle of the story, he infrequently forsaken them down the chimney). He offering one stocking of bullion per daughter, thereby profitable for their dowries so that their father could container them off to presumably less-than-ideal marriages. Fa-la-la-la-la . . . la-la-la-la.


To top it off, this pleasantly bishop would after be horribly murdered for his Christian faith, thrown over the side of a ship with an anchor tied around his neck (hence, he is the enthusiast saint of sailors). Medieval traditions held that relatives would give gifts to their children on Nicholas’ name day — even the flimsiest of rationales is sufficient for a happy day of gifting — but it is rather a widen to consider how a martyr’s name day became compared with that many entrepreneur of holidays.

The change came during the Reformation, quite in anti-Catholic northern Europe. The tradition of gift-giving, and the enterprise of relatives to give presents to their children, remained even when celebrating saints was no longer en vogue. So the saint’s name day shifted divided from its ecclesiastical resonance, at slightest in Protestant countries, and focused on the benefaction side of things. For instance, in the Netherlands, Saint Nicholas became Sinterklaas, and children would leave a wooden burden or shoe outward their bedroom doors on the eve of Dec 6. If they’d been good, in the morning it would be filled with gifts, candies or fruits. If they’d been naughty, it would enclose a birch rod (to discharge severe justice!).

Keeping kids in line has always been a big partial of the holiday. Parents could guarantee treats for good function and, back in the day, mete out physical punishment for bad. The thought that someone was always examination them — even if the relatives were out of steer — was a useful anti-naughtiness technique, as we’ve schooled from Michel Foucault’s Panopticon. But it didn’t really work to brew the pleasantly gift-bearer persona with someone who also strikes fear into the hearts of youth, so an choice characterization was shaped — a sidekick, or henchman, to accompany Saint Nicholas and keep the kids in line. This would be Black Peter in the Netherlands (a extremist mimic and stream convene indicate for the region’s distant right wing), parkeljnev in Slovenia (red-faced demons who shake bondage and yell outward of houses, to entirely weird out children, until Sveti Miklavž enters, white-bearded and white-robed, carrying gifts and making nice), and the truly terrifying Krampus opposite the limit in Austria, hybrid horrors with goat horns and legs and faces meant to be as frightful as probable — like correct Clive Barker scary. The several incarnations of the frightening side plate to the balmy saint are all partial of a psychological diversion played for centuries by parents. When examined from a clinical distance, it’s a little grim, yet a good understanding reduction grave than the genuine story of Saint Nicholas.

While Saint Nicholas is the start story of the Christmas tradition, you may good have beheld that we’ve been deliberating Dec 6, not Dec 25. Linguistically, the change from the Dutch Sinterklaas to the anglicized Santa Claus is easy to spot. He trafficked with Dutch immigrants to America, and his change from thin Greek bishop sufferer to plump, ridicule old elfin is down to a series of renouned American brief stories and poems: Washington Irving’s 1809 “Knickerbocker’s History of New York” and two unknown poems, “A Child’s Friend” (1821) and “The Night Before Christmas” (1822, which many people determine was created by Clement C. Moore). These shifted divided from the saint’s day (which were not distinguished in the Protestant world) and to Christmas day, making the gifts a jubilee after the 3 Gifts of the Magi that were brought to the Christ Child. The iconography and equipment of Santa Claus were grown over the march of these stories (smoking a pipe, drifting by the skies pulled by reindeer, wearing furs, leaving gifts in stockings, breaking and entering around the chimney), but it was a mixed of the dexterity of caricaturist Thomas Nast and a campaign to underline Santa Claus celebration Coca-Cola that remade him from a tiny elfin into the full-sized, corpulent, red-clad ridicule impression we suppose today. This tradition then migrated back to Europe.

But it wasn’t renouned with all. In Catholic countries, Saint Nicholas remained a presence, but it was tough to contest with Santa Claus. Many families adopted both traditions. Those reduction religiously-inclined opted only for the gaudier of the options — Santa Claus — on Christmas. But given Santa Claus, in its most-developed guise, was an American tradition, it was embraced or deserted as such. The unrestrained of post-World War II for all things American, in interjection for winning the war, led to the adoption of many aspects of American culture, and it’s tough to dislike Christmas.

But if anyone could dislike Christmas, it was Joseph Stalin. He did not wish a eremite holiday in the Soviet Union, and he did not wish anything American. But relatives were trustworthy to the gift-giving. And so his minions determined Ded Moroz, Grandfather Frost, a figure dredged up from Slavic mythology and dressed in a blue dress (so as not to upset him with Santa, in Coca-Cola red), and done his attainment on New Year’s. It was opposite for the consequence of difference, but it held on opposite Socialist countries, including Yugoslavia, where Dedek Mraz would seem at several factories and bring gifts to the children of the workers. But families would secretly still applaud the beloved holidays they removed from their childhood, and so, in former Socialist countries, you competence good confront a packaged December, featuring white-robed Saint Nicholas (and his concomitant devils), red-robed Santa Claus and blue-robed Ded Moroz, all in a row.

This is positively confusing, but allows for a quarrel of pleasantly old men examination your kids’ every move, to safeguard good behavior, even if relatives have to figure out mixed benefaction celebrations and can infrequently brew up who is coming when, examination what and bringing which present.


Noah Charney is a Salon humanities columnist and highbrow specializing in art crime, and author of “The Art of Forgery” (Phaidon).

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