Sir F. Chook, Inventor of Leopard Oil

Likeness captured upon a daguerrotype machine in Japan, July 1891

Lettres

Wherein the Author reflects upon certain topical & personal issues of the Day.

The Ossuarial Odium of Nicholas of Myra

Penned upon the 30th of December, 2010

Like a (SIMILE EXPUNGED), Christmas has come and gone, and I’m left slightly stunned by the usual madness, though not entirely without goodwill to all. One thing I have been wondering – and will probably wonder forever more – is why there’s so little attention to the legendry behind the holiday. There’s the standard children’s nativity story, certainly, which any disgustingly precocious schoolchild could tell you has been simplified to the point of historical impossibility – not to mention the neglect it gives to the Biblical role of the Zoroastrian aristocracy.

Now, anyone who knows me will tell you twice that I’m no po-faced evangelist, here to instruct you to get back to Christmas’s Christ-Mass-y roots. I proselytise for no Earthly church, and even if I did, I value historical uncertainty too highly not to admit that the whole thing’s a hodgepodge, an amalgam of too many winterfests, gods’ anniversaries and Classical-era retail scams too count. As far as I’m concerned, Christmas is defined by municipal councils putting giant tinsel decorations on the streetlights, and dreadful Rat Pack-style crooners competing to disgrace jazz’s good name.

No, what interests me here is not the founding of the holiday – be it the commemoration of the incarnation of the martyred creator deity, or anything elsewise – but its, shall we say, active participant. Its chief mythical being – its fairy, goblin, or imp. Yea, it’s Santa himself that I’m pondering – that mysterious fellow who defines Christmas until around puberty and reappears in a more malign aspect with childbirth. Everyone knows he lives at magnetic north, keeps a staff of magical toymakers, is allergic to eggs, and so forth – but dashed if I knew any more than that. I was dimly aware he was once a real man who was noted for his generosity, but I had no idea where he lived, what he did, whether he received remuneration for the use of his image and/or donated the proceeds to charity… twenty-five Christmasses and I hadn’t the foggiest.

Well, I’m not one to take blinding ignorance sitting down, so I did a little superficial research, and discovered a few interesting facts! Saint Nikolaos was a bishop in the early centuries of the Church, who was indeed known for his generosity – distributing gifts to the faithful of his diocese, and so forth. In death and canonisation, he is the patron of sailors, students and thieves (and so, I’d assume, of cussing, informally competitive drinking and regrettable tattoos.) It’s his death in particular which sparked my imagination: for all the years which have passed, his original tomb remains extant, and though his skeletal remains have since been removed, they too are still in Church hands, in a dedicated site in Bari, Italy.

The history of his life and his role in worship is fascinating enough, of course, but what really struck me is the potential for the cruellest act ever committed against child-kind. Simply possessing the knowledge that Santa is dead and his bones are in a box in Italy… the horrors you could inflict! “If you little curmudgeons don’t behave, I’ll take you to Bari, Italy, and show you Santa’s bones!” Heck, there’s a continuing repatriation debate concerning the return of his remains to the original tomb in Turkey – if you timed it right, you could get there while the casket itself was open. Or, or – don’t tell the kids what you’re doing until the last minute! Imagine:

“I’ve got a surprise for you all! Inside this box is Santa Claus! He’s sleeping now, but if you’ve all been good boys and girls, he’ll wake up and have presents for everyone!”
open sepulchre – reveal grisly horror
“OHHHH NOOOOO WHAT DID YOU DOOOOO NAUGHTY NAUGHTY CHILDRENNNN”

I suppose, technically, this trick would work with any box of dead bishop, but I think the genuine article lends it that crucial element of blasphemous verisimilitude. The expense is a problem, certainly – air fares and so on. I can imagine an atheistic primary school writing it off as a study trip… but I prefer to keep politics out of my childhood-destroying pranks, you know. And, yes, the whole business may be cruel, low and mean, but it’s still truer to the known facts of the holiday than a quarter-century and billions of dollars of talking reindeer, chimneys and mutually-contradictory True Meanings of Christmas.


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Commentary upon “The Ossuarial Odium of Nicholas of Myra”

  1. Denise M. Baran-Unland was heard to remark,

    Upon the 31st of December, 2010 at 1:23 am,

    Point well taken, although I’m not certain children would find the envisioned scene grisly. Modern day kiddies would yawn and those of past times were accustomed to death. My six children would probably be shockingly fascinated. The story of St. Nicholas rescuing three boys from the pickling tub is, after all, aimed at children.


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