Ask Chris #131: Fear Of A Santa Planet
Over a lifetime of reading comics, Senior Writer Chris Sims has developed an inexhaustible arsenal of facts and opinions. That’s why, each and every week, we turn to you to put his comics culture knowledge to the test as he responds to your reader questions!
Q: My flatmate is scared of Santa and therefore Christmas. How can I help cure him? — @charlie_en
Q: My flatmate is scared of Santa and therefore Christmas. How can I best capitalise on this fear? – @charlie_en
A: Charlie, I like the way you think.My love of Christmas is so all-consuming that I’ve never been afraid of Santa Claus, but to be honest, I can see where your pal’s coming from. Even at the best and most cheerful of times, Santa still sees you when you’re sleeping, knows when you’re awake and tends to offer up vaguely threatening (but jolly) directives to be good “for goodness’ sake,” which is really just a nicer way of saying “or else.” Also? He singlehandedly conquered the planet Mars. Put all that together, and you’ve got an all-seeing planet-conquering immortal that judges your morality once the icy grip of winter has seized the land. He can be a little intimidating.
And that’s just the friendly, modern Santa Claus that we have now. It just gets worse when you start poking around a little and find out that he was raised by a wood nymph on the milk of a lioness and earned his immortality by going toe-to-toe with the demons that make children sin. And when you go all the way back to St. Nicholas of Myra, patron saint of children, prostitutes and pirates? Things get pretty harsh.
I’ll let comics writer and noted Santa Claus scholar Benito Cereno (The Tick, Hector Plasm, Invincible Presents Atom Eve) explain:
Although through the influence of modern depictions of Santa we’ve come to view St Nicholas as a gentle, and perhaps toothless, figure of kindness and generosity, the fact is, Nicholas of Myra was no joke.
He had a temper and would act on it when he felt his principles were being challenged. The earliest act of St Nicholas that raised him to some notoriety–if not fame–is that at the Council of Nicaea, he walked across the floor and cold punched the heretic Arius, who had dared to say that Jesus was the creation of the Father and not an equal. Just clocked him, right in front of the emperor Constantine. Turns out it is illegal to punch someone in front of the Roman emperor, so Nicholas was put in jail, the first of many instances in which he would do hard time. (Don’t worry; Jesus and the Virgin Mary came to him in the night, returned his bishop robes and freed him from his chains. So those dudes are on his side; don’t know if that changes anything for you.)
Also, there is historical precedent for that “he knows if you’ve been naughty or nice” thing. One of the most famous stories of St Nicholas, and how he became the patron of children, is how he walked into an inn, asked for meat, and then immediately revealed that the meat the innkeeper served him was the flesh of three young men the innkeeper had murdered for their money. Nicholas turned the chops back into living boys (the power to raise the dead, not too shabby), and turned the murderous innkeeper into his indentured servant until he had paid penance for his crimes. That guy still follows Father Christmas around France, frightening children as Pere Fouettard.
And that was hardly an isolated incident. St Nicholas kind of wandered the earth punishing child murderers and chaining them, putting them into God’s service. Sometimes these were humans, like Pere Fouettard, but more often they were demons, like everyone’s new favorite Christmas lol, the Krampus.
Krampus was a pre-Christian minor Alpine fertility god (aka demons to the Christian church), who, displaced from his shrines by the advent of the Christian faith to his region, got his revenge by eating children, until jolly old St Nicholas showed up with the chains of St Peter and taught him a lesson.
This chaining of a demon would be impressive enough on its own, but the fact is, he did it over and over across Europe and the Near East. Everyone knows Krampus, but other murderers and demons captured and put to service by St Nicholas include Klaubauf, Pelzebock, Hans Muff, Hans Trapp, Schmutzli, Belsnickel, Bartel, Rumpelklas, Bellzebub, Drapp, Buzebergt, and other variants, to say nothing of the innumerable nameless perchten that accompany the Krampus himself on his runs.
If defeating human criminals and minor pagan deities in single combat isn’t enough to show that St Nicholas is a formidable foe, how about a for-real A-list Greco-Roman god? Nicholas spent his whole life in mortal combat with the goddess Artemis, endlessly assaulted by her demons (or minor divinities) as he crossed Greece and Asia Minor destroying her temples and shrines, in an attempt to keep the locals who had recently converted from backsliding into their old pagan ways. Guess who won? (Hint: we don’t celebrate Artemis in December.) Nicholas destroyed the temple of Artemis so thoroughly that the foundations were ripped out of the ground, and the sound of screaming demons brought awe to everyone in the area.
What I’m saying it, Santa Claus ain’t nothing to eff with. But here’s the good news: he’s only out to punish the wicked. As long as you can say your catechism, I’m sure you’ll be safe.
Two things to add: One, I asked Benito to elaborate on “The Chains of St. Peter,” because that sounds pretty amazing. In addition to informing me that it was, and I quote, “a whole thing,” he told me that they are in fact the literal chains that King Herod put Peter into when he was imprisoned, which he got out of when an angel helpfully showed up to bust him out of jail — jailbreaks, it seems, are a recurring theme in the St. Nicholas canon. Anyway, St. Nick got a hold of them and used them to bind demons into his service, which means that Santa Claus literally commands an army of demons, most of whom have been defeated with his bare hands, to do his bidding. Not exactly the workshop full of elves.
Two, Pere Fouettard, the cannibal that was running around France yesterday and whose name literally translates to “Father Whipper?” He doesn’t just carry around the switches to give naughty kids a swat, he also threatens them with punishments that are specific to their sins, like cutting out the tongues of children who lie. And he may or may not be the guy on the cover of Led Zeppelin IV.
So yeah, Santa runs with a pretty rough crowd.
At this point, you should have all the ammunition you need to further terrify your roommate into doing whatever it is you want him to do. Too many dirty dishes stacked up? “Hey, do you hear chains rattling? I think I hear Father Christmas and Pere Fouettard up on the housetop.” Is he a little late with his half of the cable bill? Maybe a casual reminder that no prison can hold St. Nicholas, and that Kevin Sorbo himself couldn’t stop him from marching across the world, even before he had flying reindeer backing him up.
If, however, the Spirit of Christmas (and/or fear of being carted off to Hell by the Krampus) have moved you to help him get past this fear, then I can probably help with that. The thing is, you’re still going to have to confront everything I’ve talked about above. There’s really no getting around that stuff. But you have to give it a little context.
As much as Santa Claus might pal around with demons and drop flying elbows on Olympians, it’s important to note that he’s doing it all for a good cause. Rather than just vanquishing the demons outright, he presses them into helping him do something nice by dragging them around while he delivers toys to good children all across the world. Considering that the alternative is, you know, being demons, I’d say that’s a step in the right direction. Much like that scene in the Rankin/Bass Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town special where he follows “gonna find out who’s naughty and nice” with a softhearted smile at the camera and “well… they’re all pretty nice,” the whole thing is a testament to some Superman-level optimism and a desire to look at the best in people. And really, even though he has Krampus and the Whipper playing bad cop, I think it’s safe to say that he’s mellowed out considerably in his later years.
If, however, that still fails to convince your pal that Santa is someone to be trusted rather than feared, there’s one last fact you can drop on him to bring him around: Santa is a full-on, card-carrying member of the Justice League.
Listen: If Batman says you’re okay, you’re okay. There is no further argument necessary.
In all seriousness, though, if you don’t quite know the reason why your flatmate hates Christmas, have you considered that he might actually be a Grinch? I don’t want to stereotype or anything, but I have it on good authority that you should check on his shoes to see if they’re too tight, or maybe try to bring up heart size in casual conversation. If he lets it slip that his is two sizes too small, that might be a giveaway.
If that does turn out to be the case, then the solution to your problem is as easy as helping him commit a truly awe-inspiring act of grand larceny on the nearest village and hoping he has a dramatically appropriate change of heart. Of course, that’s a pretty risky proposition — outside of Whoville, most people tend to be slightly angry upon waking up to find they’ve been robbed, no matter how steeped they are in the Christmas spirit, and if they happen to wake up while you’re stuffing a tree up the chimbly, things are bound to get messy.
Best of luck not getting shot!
That’s all we have for this week, but if you’ve got a question you’d like to see Chris tackle in a future column, just send it to @theisb on Twitter with the hashtag #AskChris, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with [Ask Chris] in the subject line!