christmas

Vampires, Pagan Gods and a Ghost Ship

Belsnickel, the magical uses of meadowsweet and the Hand of Glory play a part in the monsters of Supernatural, Season 3, Episodes 6-8.

A fiery sunrise could mean a stormy day at sea

A fiery sunrise could mean a stormy day at sea

S3E6: “Red Sky at Morning”

Monster: Ghost ship

Where it’s from: All around the world, particularly England and the United States

Ghost ships have been sighted for centuries

Ghost ships have been sighted for centuries

Description: This particular spectral ship is a three-masted clipper. There have been reports of ghost ships for centuries, including:

The S.S. Violet, a paddle steamer, ran aground crossing the English Channel in a snowstorm. She was sighted by a lookout at Goodwin Sands at the start of World War II. A lifeboat went out to investigate — but no ship was found.

The  Griffon ’s maiden voyage was also her last. This ghost ship now haunts northern Lake Michigan

The Griffon’s maiden voyage was also her last. This ghost ship now haunts northern Lake Michigan

The Griffon, one of the first major vessels to sail the Great Lakes, which is said to haunt Lake Michigan. Her maiden voyage in 1679 was also her last. She went down during a storm…but has been seen on the northern part of the lake ever since.



The title of the ep comes from a nautical saying:

Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.

Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning.

That is to say, that a red sunrise could mean a storm is coming.

What it does: The ghost ship of the Espírito Santo, a three-masted clipper (and an apparent invention of the show), appears every 37 years. Don’t look! If you happen to be one of the poor saps who sees the ship, you’ll end up drowning, like the woman in the shower and the man in the bathtub. The ghost ship will find a way to drown you — even if you’re just sitting in your car.

The Winchester Bros. start detecting a pattern: The ghost ship is targeting those who have spilled their family’s blood.

How to defeat it: There’s a gruesome but super helpful charm known as a Hand of Glory.

(Insert Dean joke here: “A Hand of Glory? I think I got one of those at the end of my Thai massage last week.”)

This desiccated body part is said to be a genuine Hand of Glory

This desiccated body part is said to be a genuine Hand of Glory

The Hand of Glory has magical properties that make it ideal for thieves: It can open any lock and sometimes makes the holder invisible.

The Hand of Glory

A Hand of Glory is actually the hand (usually the right) of a hanged man who’s still swinging from the gallows — preferably during a lunar eclipse, but any ol’ night will work as well. You pickle it for 15 days, then dry it in the sun. It’s said to have magical properties that make it ideal for thieves: The Hand of Glory can open any lock and allows intruders to enter buildings undetected, sometimes making the holder invisible. The fingers burn as candles that never go out or hold a candle made from the fat of the hanged man in their grip. Once lit, it puts people to sleep or renders them motionless. In some tellings, the thief can only light a finger for each person asleep in the house; those that don’t light reveal that someone inside is awake. The lit fingers ensure that those sleeping won’t be able to be awakened.

Honestly, where can I get one of these for myself?

A Hand of Glory is a great magical item — especially if you’re a thief

A Hand of Glory is a great magical item — especially if you’re a thief

To break the curse of the spectral ship, the fellas summon the ghost of the brother who killed the captain of the Espírito Santo. The two ghosts destroy each other in a watery sploosh.

On  Supernatural , vampirism is a blood-borne virus

On Supernatural, vampirism is a blood-borne virus

S3E7: “Fresh Blood”

Monster: Vampire

Where it’s from: Romania

Description: A girl named Lucy gets dosed with vampire blood at a club and turns into a vamp. In the Supernatural universe, vampirism is a virus; if you ingest a vampire’s blood, you become one.

Bright light hurts their eyes — though they do have infrared vision. And they can hear heartbeats from a block away.

What it does: The vampire has a type. He’s turning pretty blondes. He feels misunderstood, that he’s a victim. He even cries when his “daughters” get killed, fearful of facing eternity alone.



A fellow hunter, Gordon, thinks our boy Sam is the Antichrist. So it’s particularly satisfying that a legendary vampire hunter like him gets turned into one of the monsters he so despises. Serves him right, the jerk.

The Winchesters were going to kill Gordon back when he was a human, so it makes it easier on their consciences to off him now that he’s a vampire.

How to defeat it: A shot of dead man’s blood knocks a vampire out.

To kill them, try decapitation or a silver bullet. (Though the novelist Anne Rice, an expert on vampires, told Marketplace, “Vampires are not particularly affected by silver bullets. Traditionally what kills vampires is a wooden stake through the heart.”

 

S3E8: “A Very Supernatural Christmas”

Monster: Pagan gods

Where it’s from: Britain

Description: At first Sam thinks they’re dealing with an evil Santa: “There’s some version of the anti-Claus in every culture. You’ve got Belsnickel, Krampus, Black Peter. Whatever you want to call it, there’s all sorts of lore.”

He continues, “Santa's brother went rogue, and now he shows up around Christmas time. But instead of bringing presents, he punishes the wicked.”

I doubt there’s a demonic counterpart to Santa in every culture, but Sammy’s right that there are quite a few.



A dark take on Santa Claus, Belsnickel rewards good children but comes up with bizarre punishments for those on the naughty list

A dark take on Santa Claus, Belsnickel rewards good children but comes up with bizarre punishments for those on the naughty list

Belsnickel, a Sinister Santa From Germany

Santa’s psychotic helper from Germany whips a bad little boy

Santa’s psychotic helper from Germany whips a bad little boy

This Christmas crazy wears a mask and often a wig, dresses in dark furs, lurks outside your house, and knocks on your door or window to announce his presence. He’s been known to give nuts, candy and small gifts to good children — but those who’ve been naughty get whipped and dragged into the woods. Belsnickel makes them pay for their bad behavior by dancing, doing tricks, singing or reciting poems for him.

It’s Sam that makes the connection to paganism.

Sam: Pretty much every Christmas tradition is pagan.

Dean: Christmas is Jesus’ birthday.

Sam: No, Jesus’ birthday was probably in the fall. It was actually the Winter Solstice festival that was co-opted by the church and renamed Christmas. But I mean, the Yule log, the tree, even Santa’s red suit — that’s all remnants of pagan worship.

Dean: How do you know that? What are you gonna tell me next? Easter Bunny’s Jewish?

The Winchester boys come across wreaths made of meadowsweet. Sam explains it as a powerful pagan herb that’s basically chum for their gods. “Gods were drawn to it and they’d stop by and snack on whatever was the nearest human,” he explains.

Use meadowsweet in spells for love and positivity — or to lure human-devouring pagan gods

Use meadowsweet in spells for love and positivity — or to lure human-devouring pagan gods

Meadowsweet, though, once used to sweeten mead, is actually used in spells for love or creating a positive environment.

Hold Nickar, the Celtic god of the Winter Solstice

Hold Nickar, the Celtic god of the Winter Solstice

Sam concludes they’re looking for Hold Nickar, the pagan god of the Winter Solstice, who grants clement weather. Ancient pagans (and Wiccans today) worship the Goddess, who takes the form of the Great Mother. She gives birth to the Sun King on Yule, symbolizing a beam of light in the dark of winter, promising renewed life and the return of the sun’s warmth and sustaining energy.

What it does: The Hardy Boys are the pagan gods’ newest tributes. The couple are sticklers for details and are gathering the ingredients they need for their ritual. That includes collecting blood from the Winchesters and prying off one of Sam’s fingernails. After this horrific exercise, we can only hope they’re done. But no: “Sweet Peter on a popsicle, I forgot the tooth!” the god exclaims, heading toward Dean’s mouth.

How to defeat it: Guess these gods aren’t so immortal: Wood stakes kill them…for now, that is. –Wally

Belsnickel wears a mask and wig, dresses in dark furs, and drags naughty kids into the woods, where he whips them.

15 Best Articles of 2017

Our top blog posts cover the Paris Catacombs, India’s transsexual hijras, jinns, vintage Halloween, Fès hammans and more.

 

Duke and I tend to be drawn to the bizarre. We’re fans of the strange (chambers lined with skulls and bones, creepy vintage Halloween postcards and photos). We like to meet those who are societal outsiders (like India’s legal third sex, the hijra). We’re obsessed with the supernatural (jinns, gypsy love spells). But we also appreciate a good pampering (at a Fès hamman, say) and architectural beauties (such as the Milan Duomo).

Seems like you do, too. Here are the top 15 blog posts from last year. What was your favorite? –Wally

 

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1. GRUESOME FACTS (AND HELPFUL TIPS) ABOUT THE PARIS CATACOMBS

No bones about it: If you think piles of skulls and hallways formed of bones are pretty effin’ cool (like us), then the Catacombs of Paris are for you.

 

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2. SECRETS OF THE HIJRA: INDIA’S LITTLE-KNOWN TRANSSEXUALS

Prostitution, curses and dangerous sex change operations are a way of life for this marginalized community.

 

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3. HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM JINNS AND BLACK MAGIC

Black magic in Islam is a serious concern — and the holy writings offer numerous ways to negate magic jinn.

 

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4. THE BEST PLACE TO MAKE OUT IN PUBLIC IN DELHI

Not a typical tourist stop, the Garden of Five Senses is a whimsical sculpture park worth visiting. It’s also popular with local couples escaping societal judgment against PDA.

 

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5. 24 VINTAGE HALLOWEEN CARDS THAT ARE NOSTALGIC — BUT A BIT CREEPY, TOO

Halloween greetings from the past featured common Halloween symbols: the witch, black cat, jack-o’-lantern, ghost, devil — and one that has been forgotten.

 

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6. 21 VINTAGE HALLOWEEN PHOTOS THAT ARE SO CREEPY THEY'LL GIVE YOU NIGHTMARES

Halloween costumes of the past were scary as hell.

 

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7. WHAT’S THE BEST HAMMAM SPA EXPERIENCE IN FES, MOROCCO?

Reinvigorate yourself at the luxury hammam Les Bains Amani.

 

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8. 7 FUN FACTS ABOUT THE MILAN CATHEDRAL

What to do in Milan, Italy? Visit the gorgeous Duomo di Milano, covered with statues of saints and gargoyles — and don’t miss the amazing view from the rooftop.

 

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9. LOVE SPELLS FROM THE GYPSIES

How to cast a love spell to make someone fall in love with you — or fall out of love with you. Plus, secrets from the Roma that will reveal your future spouse!

 

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10. THE PISHTACO OF PERU

Why one of the world’s creepiest vampire legends lingers to this day.

 

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11. WAT RONG SUEA TEN, THE BLUE TEMPLE

No day trip to Chiang Rai is complete without a visit to this breathtaking wat, between the White Temple and Black Museum.

 

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12. THE BEST AND WORST PARTS OF LIVING IN QATAR

What’s it like living in a Muslim country that fasts for an entire month and limits the sale of booze? What do Qataris think of Americans? And how the heck do you pronounce Qatar?

 

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13. THE INDIAN CASTE SYSTEM EXPLAINED

Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra, untouchable: How did the caste system get started, what is the difference between castes — and how does this shameful practice persist to this day?

 

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14. HOW ST. NICHOLAS BECAME SANTA CLAUS

The surprising origins of jolly old St. Nick include a tie to prostitution, kids chopped into pieces, a devil named Krampus and a racist tradition around his helper Zwarte Pieter, or Black Peter.

 

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15. THE BEST SHOP FOR BLUE POTTERY IN THE ENTIRE FEZ MEDINA

If you’re shopping in Fès, just off of Place Seffarine is a small shop with a friendly owner and great deals.

Christmas Around the World

Learn strange Christmas traditions from other countries.

Why are these people in blackface? It’s just one of the quirky Dutch Christmas traditions!

Why are these people in blackface? It’s just one of the quirky Dutch Christmas traditions!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, as the song goes. But in many parts of the world, it’s one of the strangest times of the year as well.

Americans have their share of kooky Christmas traditions, including the belief that a misfit reindeer with a glowing red nose named Rudolph flies through the sky, helping pull a fat man’s sleigh. Not to mention that said fat man somehow fits all the presents for every kid onto this sleigh and makes it around the world, slipping down chimneys, all in a single night.
But that’s nothing compared to some of the holiday traditions in other parts of the world.

People in the Netherlands dress as Black Peter, a Moor, by putting on blackface.

For example, Christmas takes on a strangely scatalogical bent in Catalonia, a region of Spain. People place the figurine of a guy in the act of deficating in their nativity scenes as well as beat a log until it poops out treats for kids.

And in Austria and other parts of Europe, if you’re a naughty child, a devil named Krampus will kidnap you, beat you savagely with a stick and drag you to Hell.

Here are some of the more bizarre ways to celebrate the holidays in other parts of the world.

The Dutch version of Santa Claus has a helper named Zwarte Piet, or Black Peter

The Dutch version of Santa Claus has a helper named Zwarte Piet, or Black Peter

Go in blackface as Santa’s helper in the Netherlands.

Sinterklaas, as Santa Claus is known to the Dutch people, travels with his servant. But instead of diminutive elves, Sinterklaas is accompanied by Zwarte Piet, or Black Peter. Today people dress as Black Peter, a Moor, by putting on blackface. Not very PC — it’s amazing this tradition still exists. It wouldn’t in the United States, I’ll tell ya that.

Someone’s been naughty and needs to get stuffed into a sack and sent off to Spain!

Someone’s been naughty and needs to get stuffed into a sack and sent off to Spain!

It’s these fellows who keep tabs on who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. The good kids get presents, while the bad ones are shoved into a sack and taken off to Spain for a year of reform school.

Spiderweb decorations are common in Ukraine and Poland

Spiderweb decorations are common in Ukraine and Poland

Decorate the tree with spiderweb ornaments in Ukraine and Poland.

Spiderweb ornaments might sound more Halloween than Christmas, but there’s a story behind them. A poor Ukrainian widow lived with her children in a hut. The kids saw a majestic evergreen outside and wanted it to be their Christmas tree. Trouble was, they didn’t have any ornaments and couldn’t afford them.

So the woman cried herself to sleep that night. The hut’s spiders heard her sobs and decorated the tree in intricate webs overnight. In the morning, the sunrise caught the webs and made them glisten like metal. And everyone lived happily ever after, as they tend to do in these fairy tales.

In Poland, they also decorate Christmas trees with spiderwebs, but there’s a different tale behind this tradition. They believe a spider wove a blanket for baby Jesus. I’m sure it wasn’t warm and was annoyingly sticky, but I suppose they appreciated the sentiment.  

If a witch can’t find a broom in your house, Norwegians think she’ll leave you alone

If a witch can’t find a broom in your house, Norwegians think she’ll leave you alone

Hide brooms from the witches in Norway.

Apparently witches and evil spirits like to come out to play on Christmas Eve. So Norwegians, to keep them at bay, hide their brooms, which we all know is a witch’s favorite means of travel. To thwart the witches and evil spirits, men will also fire three shots from their rifles into the air.

These nuns in Venezuela were off to celebrate Christmas mass on roller skates

These nuns in Venezuela were off to celebrate Christmas mass on roller skates

Roller skate to church in Venezuela.

Amid the explosions of firecrackers, entire Venezuelan families in Caracas don roller skates and head off to Catholic mass. As tradition has it, children go to bed with a piece of string tied around their toe with the other end dangling out the window. As the skaters roll past, they give the string a tug, and children know that it’s time to put their own skates on. It’s such a popular tradition that the government took to closing entire streets to traffic so families could skate together in safety. This has gotta be the only time church feels like a disco club. All that’s missing is the mirror ball.

Grab your horse skull! It’s time to go wassailing in Wales!

Grab your horse skull! It’s time to go wassailing in Wales!

Carol (and beg for booze) with a dead horse in Wales.

Perhaps you’ve heard the song that begins, “Here we come a-wassailing.” This is the Welsh version of caroling. Wassail is an old England word for “cheers” and can also refer to the boozy beverages the carolers are begging for: ale or mulled wine.

The old Mari Lwyd just ain’t what she used to be

The old Mari Lwyd just ain’t what she used to be

The tradition, known as Mari Lwyd, translates to the Gray Mare, involves people going from house to house, singing and challenging the families inside to a battle of rhyming insults until they get a boozy beverage. What makes this creepy is that one person dresses up like a horse, donning a white sheet topped with an actual horse skull adorned with ears and eyes.

Take me to church

Take me to church

Bring a rooster to mass in Bolivia.

Bolivians celebrate Misa del Gallo (Mass of the Rooster), the midnight service on Christmas Eve, by bringing along a rooster. It must get quite boisterous. But what’s with all the cocks? It’s to honor the creature that is believed to be the first to have announced the birth of baby Jesus.

Dark-haired men, come on in! Blonde and red-haired women, stay the heck away!

Dark-haired men, come on in! Blonde and red-haired women, stay the heck away!

Hope for a dark-haired man to visit you on Christmas in Estonia and Ireland.

Your first Christmas visitor (the first-footer) can determine if your household will have a good year or not — at least that’s what the Estonians believe. If you’re a woman, blonde or red-haired, just stay home, though, please. It’s really only dark-haired gents who bring good luck.

Ireland has the same tradition, though they light a candle and, at the last stroke of midnight, throw open their front doors to welcome in the New Year. Women will beat the door with a loaf of bread, while hoping for a dark-haired gentleman to darken their doorway.

People in Finland buy small tin horseshoes to melt on New Year’s Eve as part of a fortune-telling ritual

People in Finland buy small tin horseshoes to melt on New Year’s Eve as part of a fortune-telling ritual

Melt tin and predict the future in Finland.

You might need a book of symbols and their meanings for this tradition. On New Year’s Eve, Finns purchase small tin horseshoes to melt and ladles. The molten tin is dropped  into a bucket of snow or ice-cold water. Once it hardens, they hold the blob up to the light to see what shape its shadow casts. If it looks like a hill, for example, there will be obstacles ahead. If it looks like a coin, you’ll be coming into some money.

Pesky Greek goblins called the kallikantzari take a break from trying to cut down the World Tree to cause mischief on the 12 days of Christmas

Pesky Greek goblins called the kallikantzari take a break from trying to cut down the World Tree to cause mischief on the 12 days of Christmas

Kallikantzari like to scare humans — and poop in their food

Kallikantzari like to scare humans — and poop in their food

Watch out for goblins in Greece.

According to Greek legend, the hobgoblins called kallikantzari come up from their underground homes on Christmas Day to play tricks on humans until Ephiphany, January 6. They’re particularly fond of sneaking down the chimney like Santa to hide in your home and jump out and scare you. The kallikantzari also rearrange the furniture and, shudder, take dumps in any open containers of food they find.

Grab a colander — it’s one of the best ways to get rid of these Greek goblins

Grab a colander — it’s one of the best ways to get rid of these Greek goblins

If you want to avoid goblin crap on your cookies, burn logs or old shoes, or hang sausages or sweetmeats in the chimney. In addition, many Greeks put a colander on their doorsteps because the goblins will be compelled to count the holes. They don’t make much headway, though, according to A Scary Little Christmas, because the dim-witted creatures can only count to two.

They’re burning Mickey Mouse?! What did  he  ever do to hurt anyone?

They’re burning Mickey Mouse?! What did he ever do to hurt anyone?

Burn effigies in Ecuador.

In their own version of Guy Fawkes Day, Ecuadorians celebrate La Quema de los Años Viejos, the Burning of the Old Years. They make life-size dolls that resemble someone they dislike — maybe a local politician or the ever-popular Osama bin Laden. (I’m going to guess that Trump is a new fave.) People write notes explaining why the dolls should be burned and what changes they’d like to see in the coming year.

The effigies are proudly displayed on balconies or in windows until New Year's Eve, when they’re burned in a bonfire in the street. People jump over the fires for good luck.

Don’t be late on the winter solstice — you’ll be the Thomas Donkey and will end up the butt of jokes all day

Don’t be late on the winter solstice — you’ll be the Thomas Donkey and will end up the butt of jokes all day

Try not to become a donkey in Germany.

Don’t be an ass! In Germany, the Winter Solstice is also known as St. Thomas Day. It’s not a good day to be tardy. In parts of the Sauerland region, if you sleep in or get to work late, you’re given a cardboard donkey. called the Thomas Donkey and you’ll be the butt of jokes all day.

At least you’re rewarded at the end of the day with Thomasplitzchen, iced currant buns.

The Greek goblins known as the kallikantzari like to take dumps in any open containers of food they find.

Put on your skates and grab your cock before hitting midnight mass! Maybe you can incorporate some of these traditions into your Yuletide celebrations! –Wally

How St. Nicholas Became Santa Claus

The surprising origins of Jolly Old St. Nick include a tie to prostitution, kids chopped into pieces, a devil named Krampus and a racist tradition around his helper Zwarte Pieter, or Black Peter.

Our beloved Santa Claus started out as a bishop from Asia Minor named Nikolaos

Growing up, I can vividly remember nearly peeing my pants when I was 6 years old. It was early Christmas morning and I was afraid that if I left my room I would startle Santa and he wouldn't leave me any gifts. The willpower of a child is strong, but the pull of a tree with gifts beneath it stronger.

Fast forward to the sad rite of passage in learning that this being you believed in was a lie. Maybe you discovered your parents’ hiding place for gifts (my dad’s office) before they put them under the tree, or perhaps a friend told you.

A butcher welcomed three children into his shop, slayed them and unceremoniously tossed them into a tub of brine to cure, with the intent to sell their flesh as ham.

What most of us don’t know is that the inspiration for Santa Claus came from a real man whose historic generosity would become a legacy for the ages.

 

11 Little-Known Facts About St. Nick

A children’s book about Sinterklaas, the bishop who became Santa Claus

1. He didn’t live at the North Pole.

Far from his home and workshop at the top of the world, in the south of present-day Turkey, lived a 4th century bishop whose full name was Nikolaos of Myra, a city now known as Demre. An ancient Byzantine church dedicated to St. Nicholas and containing his tomb still stands in Demre. Legend holds that it was built on the foundation of a Lycian Temple of Apollo.

St. Nicholas came into money at a young age, and was always very generous with it

2. Saint Nicholas was born into a wealthy family — and had a penchant for charity.

Born a rich man’s son, Nikolaos donated his inheritance to the poor by giving them gifts, which he’d toss through open windows. Details changed as the story was retold with later iterations of him having tossed them down chimneys — the vehicle for Santa Claus to enter homes.

 

3. The tradition of putting out stockings was to protect young maidens from being sold into sex-slavery.

Many stories are told of his generosity, such as the tale of the father and his three daughters. To save the maidens from being sold into prostitution for want of dowries, Nikolaos tossed a bag full of gold into the man’s house. It landed in one of the stockings the eldest daughter had hung up to dry. Now she could be married and was spared from selling her body to survive. The other two daughters quickly hung up stockings for Nikolaos to fill with gold, so that they, too, could be married.

Note the bags of gold, which saved three young women from a life of prostitution, in this depiction of a young, hot St. Nick

(As an interesting aside, the three golden globes that have come to symbolize a pawn shop are attributed to these three purses of gold.)

Yeah, it’s kind of creepy that Saint Nicholas comes while kids are sleeping — but, hey, they get some toys out of it

4. Stockings shifted to shoes after Nicholas’ death.

The Feast Day for Saint Nicholas is celebrated annually on December 6, the anniversary of his death. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or, later, placing their shoes out with carrots and hay for the saint’s horse, hoping that Saint Nicholas would fill them with fruit, candy and other small gifts.

 

5. Early iconography depicts him as a white-haired bishop atop a horse.

Known as Sinterklaas in the Netherlands, he is a stately and resolute man with long white hair and a full beard. He wears a lengthy red cape over a traditional white bishop’s alb, or tunic, holds a long ceremonial shepherd’s staff with a fancy curled top and rides a majestic white horse.

Saint Nicholas resurrected three kids who had been chopped into pieces by a butcher and left in a salted tub to be passed off as cured ham

6. A not-so-pretty ditty tells of the murder of children and Saint Nicholas’ role in their resurrection.

A 16th century French song titled “Le Légende de Saint Nicholas” recounts the unfortunate and gruesome fate of three children.

The song, inspired by a miracle performed by Saint Nicholas tells of a butcher, who during a time of famine, welcomed three children into his shop, slayed them and unceremoniously tossed them into a tub of brine to cure, with the intent to sell their flesh as ham. Saint Nicholas, visiting the region to care for the hungry seven years later, not only saw through the butcher’s horrific crime but also miraculously resurrected the three boys.

If you’ve been good, St. Nicholas will bring you gifts. If you’ve been naughty, you’re screwed

7. He hangs out with a devil, so be good for goodness’ sake!

Saint Nicholas was occasionally portrayed in medieval iconography taming a chained devil, who would later become the cloven-hoofed half-goat, half-demon Krampus. Children who have behaved get gifts from Saint Nicholas. Those who have not suffer a terrible fate: They get beaten with a birch switch by Krampus and are packed away in his bag to be taken to Hell.

 

8. Saint Nicholas’ helper wasn’t an elf — it was a slave.

In Holland, Sinterklaas doesn’t have elves helping him deliver gifts. He has the arguably racist companion Zwarte Pieter (Black Peter).

To this day, parade participants don blackface, red lips, nappy wigs and colorful period attire.

Saint Nicholas’ helper is Black Peter, a controversial character that inspires people in the Netherlands to actually think it’s OK to wear blackface around the holidays. Illustration from a book by Rie Cramer

By Dutch tradition, Zwarte Piet was the servant of Sinterklaas — most likely a “blackamoor,” the name given to Africans who were captured and sold into slavery. The Dutch had the preeminent slave trade in Europe, and one of their roles was acquiring and transporting slaves to the Americas. Slave trade was abolished in the Netherlands in 1863, and while some locals perceive wearing blackface and dressing up like Black Peter as an innocuous tradition, others view the practice as a distasteful connection to the past.

Eventually Saint Nicholas morphed into Santa Claus

9. He morphed into Santa Claus in the U.S.

The Reformation attempted to erase the image of St. Nicholas, without success. The tradition was brought to New Amsterdam, the original name for New York, established at the southern tip of Manhattan island, via Dutch settlers as the beloved and saintly bishop Sinterklaas. After years of mispronunciation, the name evolved into Santa Claus.

St. Nick lost much of his bishop’s attire and began wearing red cloaks before he got his telltale suit

10. Washington Irving played a part in our conception of Santa as well.

In 1809, author Washington Irving’s satire History of New York From the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, he introduced the “Knickerbocker,” a New Yorker who could trace his ancestry to the original Dutch settlers. It was also a reference to the style of pants the settlers wore.

In its pages, Irving described Santa as a jolly Dutchman who smoked a long-stemmed clay pipe and wore baggy breeches and a broad-brimmed hat. The familiar phrase “laying his finger beside his nose” first appeared in this story.

Naughty Santa! I guess people started leaving out milk and cookies so he wouldn’t drink their Cokes and eat their leftovers, as seen in this vintage ad

11. Things really do go better with Coke.

In 1822, Clement C. Moore wrote a whimsical poem for his children, “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” which was published the following year and is more commonly known by its opening line “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

Coca-Cola commissioned artist Haddon Sundblom to create an image of a wholesome, realistic Santa Claus, which was inspired by Moore’s poem. His popular image of a pleasantly plump Santa debuted in 1931 and is the one that endures, setting the standard for renditions that followed. –Duke

20 Creepy Santa Pictures

These vintage pictures of Santa Claus will scare children and adults alike.

 

America has a long tradition of children being horrified to get plopped onto the lap of a fat stranger dressed in a garishly red outfit, his face covered in a white beard. But these vintage photos of Santas past take that horror to the next level.

When you see these Kris Kringles, visions of sugarplums won’t be dancing in your head — you’ll have terrible nightmares instead.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.

That’s how the narrator of “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” better known as “The Night Before Christmas,” describes Santa in Clement Clarke Moore’s famous poem.



But when you see these Kris Kringles, visions of sugarplums won’t be dancing in your head — you’ll have terrible nightmares instead. –Wally



A Very Merry, Kinda Scary Vintage Christmas

13 of the strangest vintage Christmas cards that don’t quite bring good tidings to you and your kin.

I started out thinking I’d collect a bunch of charming vintage Christmas cards for this post. And while I found some cute images of eager children, kind Santas and snow-covered winter wonderlands, they just weren’t doing it for me. They didn’t begin to compare to the creepy excellence of vintage Halloween cards or the Yuletide greetings from that devilish Krampus.

And then I came across an old Christmas card that depicted the cheerful sentiment of a man getting mauled to death by a polar bear.

Given that I’m more likely to be on Santa’s naughty than nice list, I knew I had found my theme: Christmas cards that have a bizarre bent.

Given that I’m more likely to be on Santa’s naughty than nice list, I knew I had found my theme: Christmas cards that have a bizarre bent. As I searched around online, I grew more and more confounded. What the heck does a dead robin have to do with a merry Christmas? What’s up with that frog who stabbed and robbed his compatriot? What is that thing in the pot — and why does the cook have a bird’s head? Why are those oysters so sad? And who gave that little doggie a rifle?!

Here are the 14 weirdest vintage Christmas cards I could find.

Wishing you a weird and wonderful Christmas! –Wally

Caganer: A Crappy Spanish Christmas Tradition Explained

No Catalan Christmas is complete without Caga Tio’s crazy counterpart, the Christmas Shitter.

As hard as it might be to believe, this figurine of a man squatting and taking a poop, known as the Caganer, is actually placed in nativity scenes

On the sick and demented show South Park, which never fails to serve up brilliant zeitgeist zingers, there’s an unlikely Yuletide character: Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo. He’s literally a merry little piece of shit. Part of what makes him so funny — besides the fact that he flies out of the toilet and leaves brown schmears everywhere he goes — is how absurd it is to connect what was once the holiest of holidays with, well, fecal matter.

Turns out the Catalans had already been doing just that for a couple of centuries.

The Caganer has his pants pulled down to expose his ample bottom — and there’s a spiral of shit at his feet.

You can find dozens of defecating delights at Barcelona’s Christmas fair, the Fira de Santa Llúcia

Who exactly is the Caganer?

He’s a cheerful little guy dressed in a traditional Catalan outfit: white shirt, red cap and belt, black pants. Innocuous from the front, there’s a surprise around back. The Caganer has his pants pulled down to expose his ample bottom — and there’s a spiral of shit at his feet.

 

How do you pronounce Caganer? 

My friend Albert, who lives in Barcelona, sent voice recordings so I could hear how you properly pronounce Caganer. To me, it sounded like “ka-ga-nay,” but said very quickly. I suggested that pronunciation guide to Albert, and he wasn’t quite sold.

Morale of the story: End the word with an “ay” sound rather than “er” — and you should get an A for effort.

 

RELATED: ¿Como se dice “shit” en español? Learn Spanish swear words here!

 

Holy crap! The defecating figurine is actually placed in the nativity scene.

It sounds sacrilegious to include someone dropping a deuce near Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the Three Wise Men and the rest of the nativity bunch. But that’s exactly what Catalan families do — though the Caganer is placed far away from the manger.

“The Caganer is never in the front of the nativity scene. That would be a lack of respect. He’s always hidden in a corner, under a bridge or behind a tree, and every morning the children play a game, hunting for the Caganer,” Joan Lliteras, a self-proclaimed “Caganer connoisseur,” told the BBC.

 

How the heck did this tradition start?

As strange as it sounds, the Caganer is seen as a symbol of fertility and good fortune.

“There was the legend that if a countryside man did not put a Caganer in the nativity scene, he would have a very bad year collecting vegetables,” Lliteras explained.

“Others say that the irreverent figure is meant to humble establishment figures or that it demonstrates that no one can be prepared for when Jesus will appear,” Smithsonian.com reported.

There’s another theory: Not everyone could give the Son of God expensive gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh like the Magi.

“It was the only thing the little shepherd boy had to give the Baby Jesus,” Nancy Duneuve told the BBC. “So it’s not at all disrespectful — it’s a great gift.”

Manure, after all, makes good fertilizer.

Political, pop culture and sports figures all get the Caganer treatment

Was that the Queen of England I saw taking a dump?

Why, yes, yes, it was. The Caganer tradition has entered the modern era. While you can still find the original Caganer, the Christmas markets of Barcelona and the nearby area are filled with Star Wars characters, political figures (yes, Trump has become popular this year), football stars, the Pope, Spider-Man and SpongeBob SquarePants.

Vendors insist it’s not an insult but rather a great honor to be depicted as a Christmas crapper.

 

Believe it or not, this isn’t the only Scatological Catalan Christmas tradition!

Our friend Albert’s nieces sit atop a giant Caga Tío, a log you feed and beat until it poops out treats

Our friend Albert’s nieces sit atop a giant Caga Tío, a log you feed and beat until it poops out treats

There’s also the Caga Tío, the Pooping Log. This is a piece of wood with a cartoonish face (googly eyes, big smile). It wears a traditional red Catalan cap like the Caganer and is covered with a blanket. Kids feed it their leftovers, beat it with sticks, sing a song — and hope it poops out yummy treats. I guess you could say they literally beat the shit out of it.

 

Visit Caganer.com — and start your own collection. Catalan Christmases truly are the shit. –Wally

 

ANOTHER BIZARRE XMAS TRADITION: Krampus, the Christmas Devil

What Is Krampus, the Anti-Santa?

Everything you wanted to know about Krampus the Christmas Devil but were afraid to ask.

This frightening monster is called Krampus — and he's actually part of Christmas celebrations in Austria and other countries in Central Europe

A demonic goat man with massive fangs, twisted horns and a frighteningly long tongue. It’s a creature that’s almost too horrifying to even be associated with Halloween — and yet, in some parts of Europe, this ghastly beast is actually Santa’s sidekick.

Not surprisingly, Krampus became the subject of a horror movie last year.

Misbehaving kids in the United States should count their blessings. They only get coal in their stockings. Krampus beats bad children with a bundle of birch sticks — and then drags them down to his lair in Hell.

How the heck did this nightmarish demon, known as the “Christmas Devil,” come about?

 

Don't look, but I think there’s a Krampus behind you!

This little girl looks like she doesn’t have anything to worry about. But that bad little boy is being packed off to Hell!

What does Krampus look like?

The stuff of nightmares. Think of a satyr or faun on acid. A fur-covered half-goat, half-man, all-demon monstrosity.

The Los Angeles Times describes him as “a hairy, horned, chain-toting biped that resembles a Wookiee on a bender.”

He shambles along, dragging chains and the shackles he has broken free of. (It begs the question who locked him up in the first place?)

Vintage holiday cards from Austria feature the Christmas Devil, and read, “Greetings from Krampus!”

Like Santa Claus, he, too, has a large sack he carries over his shoulder (sometimes depicted as a large basket). Except Krampus’ isn’t filled with presents — it’s stuffed with kidnapped children.

 

When did Krampus first appear?

“Vague written accounts mentioning pelts and horns date back to the 17th century,” Atlas Obscura reports.

But his devil-like form didn’t really get solidified until holiday postcards trumpeting, “Gruß vom Krampus!” (Greetings from Krampus!) became all the rage in Austria.

“Another factor that likely influenced the character’s satyr-like appearance was the fin de siècle obsession with Pan,” the Greek god of nature, according to Atlas Obscura.

 

What’s he do to naughty children?

Misbehaving kids in the United States should count their blessings. They only get coal in their stockings. Krampus is much more of a disciplinarian: He beats bad children with a bundle of birch sticks — and then drags them down to his lair in Hell, National Geographic reports.

 

What kind of freak gave birth to this monster?

Not surprisingly, Krampus’ mother is said to be Hel, the Norse goddess of the dead. She in turn is the daughter of the mischief-maker Loki. Hel is half-dead, looking like a living, if gloomy, woman — aside from her legs (and, one would assume, her lady bits), which are those of a rotting corpse. Variously, she’s depicted as her living and dead halves literally split down the middle, revealing half a skeletal face and body, usually on her left side.

 

How’d Krampus get his name?

His name derives from the German word krampen, meaning claw.

Kind St. Nicholas became the Santa Claus we know today, while the evil Krampus punishes naughty children

They know if you’ve been bad or good — so be good for goodness’ sake

What sick fucks came up with this creature?

The Germans, apparently. Krampus is seen as the yin to St. Nicholas’ yang. The devilish figure raids towns the night of December 5, known as Krampusnacht, or Krampus Night. The next day is St. Nicholas Day, when German children find one of two items in the shoes or boots they’ve left out on their doorsteps: presents if they’ve been good or a rod if they’ve been bad (to beat them with, presumably).

A man dressed in his horrific finery takes part in a Krampuslauf, or Krampus Run

What other countries have incorporated Krampus into their Yuletide traditions?

Austria, in particular, caught Krampus fever. There, as well as in Hungary, Slovenia and the Czech Republic, men dress up as devils, get wasted and chase people through the streets for a Krampuslauf, or Krampus Run.

Where the wild things are: What do you call a collection of Krampuses?

“For these runners, Krampus is the dark counterpart to the gemütlichkeit Christmas evokes,” Fest300 writes. “Gemütlichkeit is a hard word to translate, but it encompasses both coziness and conviviality, whereas Krampus is the other half of the winter solstice: darkness, cold and snowy fir forests where branches snap and things go bump in the frozen night.”

Apparently not everyone is terrified of Krampus. This little girl feeds her Krampus dolly

Seriously, though, what’s up with a demon being St. Nick’s cohort?

The Alps must have a dark mystery to them. Krampus embodies “the season of autumn and early winter — the twilight, the slowing down and the mystical feeling that foreshadows these traditional events, the tales of mythical creatures, the forests of the mountains where they lurk and the presence of the unknown,” a person who dresses as Krampus told the L.A. Times.

 

As the Christmas carol goes, “You better watch out” indeed! –Wally