10 Members of the Justice League of Christmas
In a recent essay, I posited that rather than being the villain of Christmas as he is popularly understood, the furry demon known as the Krampus is actually the Batman of Christmas. This got me thinking: who would play which role if we were to build an entire Justice League of Christmas? If you are wondering, yes, this is what it's like inside my brain all the time. And so, I propose to you this roster for the JLXmas.
I admit, I almost made Santa the Martian Manhunter just to see if I could get away with it. Santa in his time as Saint Nicholas is attested to have had a host of powers—including prophetic dreams, the sheer physical power necessary to raise a temple from its foundations and then beat an army of demons senseless, astral projection, entering the dreams of others, not to mention his miraculous abilities to produce wheat ex nihilo PLUS his traditional Santa powers such as psychically determining guilt. And even though he is clearly a shapeshifter, able to appear in various aspects as the nations he visits expect to see him—Santa, St Nick, Father Christmas, plus international variants such as Joulupukki, Pere Noel, Babbo Natale and so on—I think role, attitude, and personality have to trump powers. And when it comes to someone who puts the needs of others over his own and never gives up in his mission to bring joy to everyone, Santa's got the Superman role on lock. Also: they both have castles at the North Pole.
As I expound at some length in the essay linked above, the satyr-like demon known as the Krampus forms the darker half of Christmas's Finest to Santa's Superman (yes, technically the Krampus comes on Saint Nicholas Day, December 6, not Christmas. Just go with it). Just like Batman, the Krampus's mode of operation is to inspire fear rather than hope, and his techniques are meant to deter the superstitious and cowardly. The main thing that separates the two is that the crime that motivates the Krampus is his own, and his story is one of redemption rather than vengeance. Additionally, just as Batman had Batman Inc, the Krampus has his own series of international counterparts in figures such as Klaubauf, Bartel, Pelzebock, Ru Clas, Gumphinckel, and so on, except instead of the Batmen of All Nations, it's more like the Krampusse of Various Alpine and Alpine-Adjacent Regions Throughout Central Europe and Northern Italy.
All right, time for a deeper cut. The anjanas are fairies who live in the forests of Cantabria in Spain, where they protect those who live in and around the forest. They fly on graceful wings, speak the language of the babbling brook, and wield magical wicker wands. They are generous and compassionate to the poor, bringing gifts to those who need them most on the night of Epiphany Eve (January 5). But even though they are so gentle and kind, the anjanas are also mighty warriors who protect others by slaying the bloodthirsty Cantabrian cyclopes known as the Ojancanu, who have the strength to out-wrestle bears and bulls. Compassionate warriors for peace who fight mythological creatures while caring for the less fortunate? Sounds like Diana to me.
Although she can't, as far as I know, make plasmic constructs of anything she can imagine, nevertheless, Lucy is the saint of light, and that makes her a good match for the Green Lantern. Martyred in the early fourth century for refusing to renounce Christ and for rebuking the governor of Sicily, Lucy's primary weapons are not a magic wishing ring, but candles on her head and eyeballs on a plate (her own, don't worry; it's nothing weird). She is most popular for bringing light to the Scandinavian countries on the darkest night of the year, but she can also be found distributing gifts in various parts of Italy on the night of December 13, soaring through the sky in a cart pulled by a flying donkey and accompanied by a drunken Italian man named Castaldo. Let those who worship evil's might beware her power, Saint Lucy's light!
Let's face it: basically every figure important at Christmas and Christmas-adjacent holidays have to be pretty darn quick to deliver presents to every child, even in a relatively restricted geographic area, in the span of one night. What I'm saying is, there's an embarrassment of riches when it comes to potential super-speedsters. That said, Santa Claus definitely covers the greatest amount of ground, and his speed is given to him by his team of flying reindeer, who have this most famous reindeer of all out in front. He has the added benefit of leaving behind a streak of red light as he zips past, just like the Flash. And he even has one up on the Scarlet Speedster: he can travel back in time without a cosmic treadmill, just by popping out to the Archipelago of Last Years.
Look, I think we can all agree that someone has to take care of the waters, right? And the obvious choice for that role is the Anguleru, a jolly eel fisherman who brightens Christmas for children in Asturias in northwestern Spain. He lives the majority of the year in the Sargasso Sea, but makes his way to Asturias for Christmas Eve, at which point he spends the entire night fishing for eels. Then he sells the eels and uses the money to buy presents for children, which he distributes by sailing down the river in his boat, the Angulina. So he's kind of like Aquaman, except he cannot, as far as I know, breathe underwater, and he can only talk to eels. My point is this: I love the Anguleru.
[Belsnickel art by Joel Carroll]
So the trick to Martian Manhunter is that he's basically Superman but weirder and with more powers, right? Well, in that regard, the nod for this spot has to go to Belsnickel aka Belschnickel aka Pelznichol aka Belsniggle aka a host of other spellings. Belsnickel is like Saint Nicholas if Saint Nicholas draped himself in ragged furs, lived in isolation in the woods, and had the ability to transform himself into a Krampus when necessary. This grim figure from the Palatinate region of Germany who migrated to America as well, where he is still celebrated by Pennsylvania Dutch communities, combines the benevolent aspects of the Christmas gift-giver and the frightening, exotic countenance of the dark companion. No word on whether he has a weakness to fire, but I assume he has a fondness for Oreos, because everyone likes Oreos (except for those Hydrox separatists).
Those of you with sharp memories—or who are just culturally aware—may recall that the Tio de Nadal, or Christmas log, also known as the Caga Tio, or Poop Log, is a Catalonian tradition of a magical Christmas log who poops cake, candy, and fruit when you hit it with a stick. And so, even though he is made of wood and is not a man of India rubber, this handsome fellow with his jaunty little cap takes the Plastic Man role of comic relief as well as gastro-intestinal relief.
I admit that Chris Sims talked me into this analogy, as I was uncertain at first. But again, it comes down to personality and role the character plays rather than a strict one-to-one powers comparison. Here's what Sims says: “Mrs. Claus is unnecessary for the core Christmas mythology, but she's welcome as both a sounding board for Santa Claus and an additional character in her own right, just as Green Arrow isn't necessary for the 'core' Justice League (and is usually overshadowed by Batman), but he has a strong fanbase and is a relatively interesting character.” As you may know, it is literally impossible to argue with Chris Sims, and so here it is. (There was also a comparison to the McRib as part of the discussion, but that has been omitted.) And thus, our hypothetical Christmas Justice League officially has three times as many female members as the actual Justice League.
Saint Basil the Great is the Captain Marvel to Santa's Superman: he debuted a little later, being born shortly before Saint Nicholas's death, rose to fame that might have briefly superseded that of the older Greek saint as he was hugely prolific in his works of theology, eventually becoming known as the Ouranophantor, which means “revealer of the mysteries of heaven,” but ultimately loses out in the end due to Santa's overwhelming American-style PR campaign. Now Saint Basil is mostly known in Greece, delivering gifts to good Greek children on January 1, and while his battle cry maybe isn't as snappy as “SHAZAM!”, it might be just as stirring: “A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”
Okay, so if the Krampus isn't the villain of Christmas, who is? This JLXmas has to fight somebody, right? Here are just a few suggestions: Gryla, the fierce Icelandic ogress who eats children who misbehave, and her terrible pet, the Yule Cat, who devours children who don't receive new clothes for Christmas. And while Gryla's thirteen children, the Yule Lads are more mischievous than evil, they might still make a pretty decent Mxyzptlk-style foe. Then there are the kallikantzaroi, Greek goblins who rise from trying to chop down the World Tree on the winter solstice, only to terrorize people until the blessing of the waters on January 6.
Finally, there's the figure that's actually the Lex Luthor to Santa's Superman: Christkindl, a young angel who, to most of humanity is a benevolent friend, but who was literally created by Martin Luther to destroy Santa (or at least discourage the veneration of the popular Saint Nicholas). She even comes with her own knock-off Krampus called Hans Trapp, a vicious cannibal who dresses as a scarecrow, and who gained eldritch powers after being struck by lightning.
My point is this: Christmas is way more interesting than Elf on a Shelf.