Bad Uncle Award!

The awards keep coming! Yesterday, it was the Versatile Blogger Award, and today it’s the Bad Uncle Award. The irony is that I won it by trying to be a good uncle…

With the holidays approaching, I know that my sister has her hands full with her two kids, Ernestine and Paulo,* so I figured I’d give her a hand. Ernestine, who is in the second year of her terrible twos, has been especially rambunctious since her brother Paulo was born this past summer. (Or spring. I forget the exact details.)

But the point is that Ernestine has been doing some very bad things lately, like stealing cars and tagging people’s garages with graffiti. At the same time, Ernestine still believes in Santa Claus — and she really, really wants a pony for Christmas. To get her to behave, my sister placed an Elf on the Shelf on the shelf in Ernestine’s bedroom. Taking this strategy a step further, I called my sister’s house and asked to speak to my niece.

“Why?” my sister said, as I’d never expressed an interest in speaking to Ernestine before.

“Trust me,” I said. “I’m going to pretend to be Santa Claus. It’ll be great.”

“Okay,” my sister said, barely concealing her skepticism.

“Hello?” Ernestine said when she picked up the phone.

“Ho! Ho! Ho!” I said in my holliest, jolliest voice. “Is this Ernestine?”

“Yes,” Ernestine said.

“Do you know who this is?”

“Santa?” Ernestine said.

“Ho! Ho! Ho!” I said. “That’s right! It’s Santa Claus! I’m just calling to say that I was going to bring you a pony this year, but your Elf on the Shelf tells me you’ve been a bad little girl, so I had to put you on the naughty list. There’s always next year, I suppose, but this year, it just isn’t happening. I’m sure you understand. Ho! Ho! Ho! Goodbye.”

I’d barely hung up the phone when my sister called back — and she was angry.

“What did you say to her?” my sister demanded.

“Nothing,” I said. “I mean, I told her I was Santa Claus.”

“I know that,” my sister shouted over Ernestine’s tears. “Why is she crying?”

“I told her she wasn’t getting a pony,” I said. “Is that wrong? Is she getting a pony? Because from what I’ve seen, she doesn’t deserve a pony.”

“No,” my sister said. “She’s not getting a pony.”

Upon hearing her mother vehemently confirm Santa’s prediction, Ernestine went into hysterics.

“So what’s the problem?” I asked.

But my sister had already hung up on me.

Which means I’ll have to come up with a really good Krampus costume to work my way back into her good graces in time for Christmas.

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent. And to protect Ernestine.

Speculation on the Origins of Santa Claus, Part Four: Coca Cola

(Continued from yesterday.)

No discussion of Santa Claus would be complete without some mention of Coca Cola. I’ve heard more than once that Coca Cola invented the contemporary image of Santa Claus as part of a holiday-themed ad campaign. Snopes.com, however, notes that while Coca Cola did start using Santa Claus in their ads in the 1930s, images of what we now think of as the “traditional” jolly old elf were appearing on magazine covers and in advertisements throughout the first few decades of the twentieth century.

Yet while Coca Cola may not have “invented” Santa Claus, I wouldn’t be surprised if they helped to proliferate his image. What’s more, with the kind of corporate backing that a company like Coca Cola could provide, it isn’t surprising that the concept of Santa Claus eventually helped to turn Christmas into the commercial bonanza that it is today.

To sum up, though I’ve probably left a lot of the “ingredients” that have fed into our contemporary conception of Santa Claus out of this discussion, a few of the major ones are illustrated below. Saint Nicholas gave us his name. Krampus gave us the chimney. Odin gave us a fondness for winking and an odd predilection for associating footwear with the holidays, Martin Luther reminded us to keep the Christ in Christmas and thereby unwittingly gave us Chris Kringle, and Coca Cola helped turn Santa Claus into an agent of commercialism.

Personally, I’m rooting for Krampus to make a comeback.

Speculation on the Origins of Santa Claus, Part Three: Chris Kringle

(Continued from yesterday.)

So there’s Saint Nicholas, who was known for his generosity, Krampus, who was known for sliding down chimneys, and Odin who had one eye and a horse with eight legs. But none of this explains why Santa Claus sometimes goes by the name Chris Kringle.

This one, I think, we can trace back to Martin Luther. In line with his interest in reforming Christianity, Luther was way ahead of his time when it came to putting the Christ back in Christmas. One of his big concerns around the Christmas season was that Germans were more interested in the feast of Saint Nicholas, which was celebrated on December 6, than in the birth of Christ. To fix this problem, he told everyone to remember the Christkindl or Christ Child.

My guess is that Luther’s exhortations worked for a little while, but when Germans started emigrating to America, the Americans misheard “Christkindl” as Chris Kringle. Somewhere along the line, Chris Kringle got conflated with Santa Claus, and we ended up with this song, which you may recall from your childhood: