A Christmas Story

From the archives, the story they don't tell you.

On a quiet morning a thousand years or so ago, three ships set out from a small seaside village in Southeast Italy. They were on a secret mission from God. Their objective: to rescue a holy man from certain destruction by bandits.

The holy man had been dead for centuries.

Hundreds of years before that, he had lived in the area, performing many miraculous acts. One of those was rumored to be calming the stormy seas, and sailors ever since remembered his name and called to him when they were frightened by the storms.

Another story had him saving kidnapped children. In still another, he gave presents to those in need.

But now he was in peril. Or rather, his remains were in peril. The place where he was buried became a great chapel. He was visited from far and wide.

That probably seems a bit strange to us today. It did not then. Back then, dead people made a pretty good living.

For the first couple of centuries after Christianity started, nobody was a tourist or collected a lot of religious stuff. Where was Jesus born? What happened to the cup he drank from that last night? Who washed his socks? These were questions that a slave religion did not concern itself with.

Then, slowly, over time the new religion took off. Roman emperor Constantine decided to become a Christian. His wife famously goes on a vacation to the Mideast and asks folks where things happened. After all, she had a bunch of stuff she believed in. She was curious about visiting the places she had read about. Where was the ark at? Where was the Sermon on the Mount preached?

There were rumors. It had only been 300 years or so. But it wasn't like there were road signs. But as it turns out, if a really rich emperor's wife shows up and starts asking questions? People have answers!

And so, holy places became places to visit. One might even say tourist traps. Over the next 700 years, more and more places were discovered to have been related to things in the holy texts. It was rumored that you didn't have a proper church in any small city in Europe if you didn't have a piece of the one true cross. Once they figured out that this might be a bit of a sham, they turned to dead bodies.

It was rumored that, like other uber holy dudes, his body did not decay. It was said to excrete a magical liquid that smelled like roses and could heal the sick. But now there were new leaders. A foreign band of raiders pillaged the area, threatening to harm him or even take or destroy his remains and his chapel.

The people back in Italy heard about this and were quite concerned!

Even more important, there were lots of holy remains like this, but this guy was top-drawer, first-string talent. Already, thousands of churches had been built in his name -- 300 in Belgium alone. Even though the Christians had split into two groups, both groups liked the guy. (Being dead for hundreds of years probably helped) He was the Elvis of holy dead dudes for a lot of Christians.

So as the three ships sailed into Myra's harbor, they knew they were on a sacred mission. They had to save the saint. Bring his body back to their home where they could tend to it, make sure it was unmolested, and be visited by people wanting to see the man.

The monks who lived in the chapel, who protected the saint, however, weren't really concerned about danger from local raiders. In fact, for some odd reason, they were more concerned about bandits showing up in ships with flimsy excuses trying to steal the holy man's bones. They had the whole guy. And he was a big honcho. Some churches only had a toenail of a obscure friar or something. These monks knew they had a good thing when they saw it.

So as they worshipped that day, forty-seven heavily-armed Italians left the ships and strode into their church, asking the monks to see the saint's body. But the monks weren't idiots. They wanted to know what the heck was going on. Why would so many armed men need to see some long-dead dude?

(I imagine at this point the leader saying something like "We're worried about him! Just think! Armed men could show up!")

Well, whatever was said, that game got old in a hurry, so the armed men decided to just tie up the monks to get them to shut the heck up and stay out of the way. They found the corpse, "rescued" it, took some other things from the tomb and church, then made it out of town just barely ahead of an angry mob. (Led by the monks, I would guess)

The holy man had been saved. Also some other precious artifacts. It was a great rescue mission. Mission accomplished.

They made it home safely, then put all the precious things away safely in a place where people could come and visit, located in the center of town with good access and a natural picturesque setting. If there had been a Yelp back in the day, it would have easily gotten five-stars.

But while location is king, marketing is also important, so everywhere the sailors went they spoke of the holy man, his great deeds, the power of his remains. The guy was already crazy popular. This just took him up to the next level. People all over the Mediterranean, of all religions, knew about him. They knew of his stories and of the power his remains had. As the European nations took over most of the world, he became part of a common mythos of mankind.

But these things fade over time, and such it was with our dead hero.

Seven hundred years later, on a continent not even known back in the day, a guy who liked writing little stories about history and such -- which is the chosen work of the pure -- was having problems building an audience in New York city. The local historical society had a bunch of ideas. Maybe he could write up a history?

Well, let's face it, history can be kind of boring, but let's not let the facts get in the way of things. What if he just made stuff up? Pretended as if it were history?

So he writes a book about the early settlers of New York. But he does not publish it. Nope. Instead he creates a bunch of sock puppets (fake names) and writes letters to the newspaper claiming that a long-lost manuscript had just been discovered about the stories of the early settlers, written by one of them! But it was being kept a secret, you see, and ...

It was a brilliant marketing campaign. By the time the book was "allowed" to be seen by the public, everybody wanted it. They wanted to know how the city had came to be. And since our writer was not overly concerned with facts, and since our holy guy made for such a great story anyway and had mostly been forgotten? He had our saint, one of his favorites, showing up in one of the "true" stories, arriving in a wagon and using a magic pipe to show the early settlers the great city New York would become one day. (One wonders exactly how this magic pipe worked)

It was a good run, and the riff on ancient holy dudes was an excellent touch, but it didn't completely take off. Our writer went on to write other "true" stories of the old days, involving men who slept for hundreds of years, headless horsemen, and the great man Christopher Columbus. He was one of the first truly great American writers.

And there the story might have ended.

But one of his fans, loving all of his work (Poe was a huge fan of the guy too), just had to do his own riff off of the master. So after picking out the story he liked the most, the one with the magic pipe, he went out on a sleigh ride trying to sort through how he was going to piece it all together.

Well, first of all, this couldn't be a Catholic thing, with some famous holy guy showing up to perform miracles on Christmas Day. No. No. Too ethnic. Instead, he chose to move it back day, make him show up on Christmas Eve -- which nobody cared about. And we'll take the wagon out. Make it a sleigh. And no horses. Let's use reindeer. Make him a midget. We can leave the magic powers in, though. The pipe was a nice touch. We'll keep that.

But why would he show up? To visit sailors? No, that's not going to work. He liked kids, right? So let's have him show up to do something .... nice ... with kids. Maybe give them stuff. Who doesn't like presents?

So the fan finishes his mental pitch session, cuts out a first draft of a poem, and sends it to the local paper. Anonymously. After all, he was a professor of literature! This was just fun stuff.

People loved it. They loved it so much that by the time our professor decided to admit he was the writer, at least seven other people had already claimed the job. There was a great marketing opportunity here, you see, and a fantastic merchandising tie-in.

And now you know the real story of Santa Claus.

The story continues, of course, with later publishers changing the words of the poem "No, no. Not Happy Christmas. Let's make it Merry Christmas!", adding in a glow-in-the-dark reindeer, getting rid of the pipe, and sticking copies of him in department stores worldwide.

A thousand years ago, a bunch of monks were looking around an empty church wondering "What the heck happened?" They probably also wondered "Doesn't anybody care about the truth here? Doesn't anybody care about the deeper meaning to all of this?"

I would tell you more about them, but nobody knows their names.

And then the aliens came, and Santa had his best elves make him into a giant half-cyborg .. but that's another true story entirely. He barely made it out of that one!

(from a facebook post in 2016)


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