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Here Comes Santa Claus

The 'real' Saint Nicholas was a 4th century Bishop of Myra associated with many miraculous events of varying historical attestability. My favourite of these for sheer exuberant oddness has to be the one about the three young boys, murdered by a butcher during a time of famine, chopped up (chopped up!) and pickled in brine for seven years (seven years!) before being miraculously restored in answer to the bishop's intercessory prayers.

16th century French song on the St. Nicholas Centre website tells the tale in the good old bluntly gruesome way of good old-fashioned folk rhyme. Meanwhile our modern songs have tragically watered down the contemporary hybrid Santa character beyond recognition, blandly censoring all of the most interesting bits of his biography. Well! I for one won't stand for it a moment longer ...


          Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus,
          Riding over the plain;
          Reaches a copse with a cottage, stops
          Some sustenance to gain.
          Children pickling, butcher snickering
          At their miserable plight;
          Hang your head, repent in dread
          ‘Cause Santa Claus is coming tonight.

          Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus,
          In his Santa Claus way;
          There’s no fooling him, he’ll discern your sin
          From that victual tray.
          “Bring the swine long years in brine!”
          The butcher takes affright –
          Gleans the drift, abandons swift
          ‘Cause Santa Claus is coming tonight.

          Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus,
          Drawing near the vat;
          Spreads three fingers, barely lingers –
          Three live boys, like that!
          One feels "well blest", one has had rest,
          One speaks of beauteous light;
          All stand amazed who see them raised
          At Santa Claus’s coming tonight.

          Carolyn Whitnall, 2015

Saint Nicholas was also known for his generosity and compassion. Another famous story revolves around his secret scheme to provide a poor man's three daughters with dowries to enable them to marry. (There were few if any employment opportunities for women at that time; to remain unmarried was to enter into almost certain destitution and/or prostitution). Not wishing to embarrass the family with overt charity, he delivers his gifts – three purses of gold – under cover of darkness, throwing them in at the window. (In one version he throws the third down a chimney, to avoid confrontation with the curious father. And – whaddya know? – it only falls into the stocking which one of the daughters has hung over the fireplace to dry ...)

Y'know, I like this 'Santa' a lot more than the consumerism-serving, parent-manoeuvring, child-deluding, binge-drinking, coke-dealing, mass-surveilling knock-off who nowadays breaks annually and unchastised into our homes.

His giving habits call to mind Jesus' instructions to "not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret" (see Matthew 6:1-4). The story of the three boys captures something of the heart of a God "who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist" (see Romans 4:17). And his proactive championing of the vulnerable, his efforts to relieve suffering, resonate with that big restoring plan for humankind which Mary connected somehow with the life she carried in her womb:
    He has shown strength with his arm;
        he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
    he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
        and exalted those of humble estate;
    he has filled the hungry with good things,
        and the rich he has sent away empty.
    He has helped his servant Israel,
        in remembrance of his mercy,
    as he spoke to our fathers,
        to Abraham and to his offspring forever. (Luke 1:51-55)
All things considered, I am sure you will agree that my lyrical revision is an important contribution to the festive music scene, and a sure-fire Christmas number one hit in the making. I am confidently awaiting approaches from the larger record labels, and plan to accept the best offer. All royalties to go to charity, of course – just as Saint Nicholas himself would have wished it, I imagine...

[Thumbnail image is in the public domain: A 13th-century depiction of St. Nicholas from Saint Catherine's Monastery, Sinai].


Mike Banks said…
I think a posting of Mrs W on lead vocals accompanied by Mr W on acoustic guitar would enliven the poem/song ... maybe a viral phenomenon, who knows. Happy Xmas. 2 Cor 9:15
My family were graced with a Christmas Day rendition which was, I'm sure they'll agree, second only to Mr. W's fantastic dinner in the schedule of festive highlights. I hope Christmas in the Banks home was joyful, albeit a while ago now -- Happy (belated) New Year! :-)

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