Today we’re going to be taking a look at claims from the Church of England’s Bishop of St. Albans, the Reverend Alan Smith, that Santa Claus has been hijacked in Britain. This man claims that Saint Nicholas, the man who Santa Claus is partially based upon, has lost his message of selflessness as advertisers use his image to promote materialism.
It’s sad that in Britain the selfless Saint Nicholas has been hijacked and has become the Father Christmas of a thousand adverts. We are left with little more than a materialistic Christmas, less about giving and more about self-pampering. Pester-power rules OK!
On the surface that sounds like a legitimate complaint, and it’s one I partially agree with, but let’s have a little think about that shall we?
Saturnalia & The Lord Of Misrule
It was the Romans that first introduced the festival of Saturnalia, a month long festival on honour of Saturn, that began with a week long holiday celebrated between the seventeenth and the twenty-fifth of December. Before Christianity even existed, the Roman emperors compelled their most hated citizens to bring gifts to them during Saturnalia (this would later be expanded until the general populace gave each other gifts during the holiday, beginning the tradition of Christmas presents that we indulge in today). At the start of the week a human sacrificial lamb was chosen and dubbed the Lord Of Misrule, and they would be fed and forced to indulge all the other desires of the flesh. At the end of the festival the Lord Of Misrule would be sacrificed, symbolizing the destruction of temptation and the festival would come to an end.
In the early days the servants would be masters of the house, able to command their masters, and all governmental properties were shut down that everyone could include themselves in the fun. During this celebration of lawlessness, the courts were closed and nobody could be punished for damaging another’s property in the week, prompting widespread intoxication, rape and sexual licentiousness, and going from house to house while naked and singing (the origin of Christmas Carols).
In the later half of the fourth century this festival was still an ongoing tradition and Christian leaders incorporated it into their newly formed organised religion in a successful attempt to convert many of the pagans over. However, unlike other assumed pagan holidays there were no specific Christian holidays to combine with Saturnalia. In the early days of the Christian movement Jesus’ birth was neither known nor celebrated and Easter was celebrated as the main Christian celebration, but this changed as the Christian leaders assigned Jesus’ date of birth as the 25th of December, the final day of the Saturnalia festival. Although the early Christian movement brought the pagans over to their peaceful religion, the traditional methods of celebrating Saturnalia were kept mostly in place.
In the mid fifteenth century Pope Paul II presided over the Saturnalia carnival and forced Jews to race through the city for the amusement of his people. Before being forced to race the Jews would be fed large quantities of rich foods to make the race more difficult for them, and more amusing for the baying crowd. This abuse of the Jewish community continued through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as rabbis in Rome were forced to wear garish outfits and march through the streets while the crowd pelted them with rotten vegetables and stones. In 1836 the leaders of the Jewish community in Rome sent a petition to Pope Gregory XVI, begging him to stop the annual abuse of Jews during Saturnalia, to which the Pope cordially replied that “It is not opportune to make any innovation”. In 1881, Christian leaders in Poland whipped the Polish church-going public up into such a frenzy that Christmas day was marked by a riot which resulted in the death of twelve Jewish people, the rapes of dozens of Jewish women, the maiming of hundreds of people and two million rubles of property damage. Although this mistreatment had mostly disappeared by the start of the twentieth century, survivors tell how the Nazis revived some of these traditions in their concentration camps, with one witness I’ve spoken to describing how the losers had their skin flayed in front of the participants for the next race.
So there we have the effect of a religion assuming control of a major festival and, instead of stopping the human sacrifice going on like their own religious texts tell them to turning it into an anti-semetic nightmare. Jesus’ was not born on December 25th and no religion existing in the world actually recognises his birth as that day, with the only reason it was ever stated as being on that day being a way to bring new people into the flock by telling them they wouldn’t be losing out on any of their old ways of materialism, vandalism and debauchery that they already celebrated.
Santa Claus, a figure loosely based on not only Saint Nicholas but Odin as well as many other “dead gods” and helpful people, has not lost his message. His message has simply evolved to fit with the original meaning of the holiday that became Christmas.