Santa Claus’s body is leaking mystery bone juice

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Forget stockings and presents and candy canes this Christmas. What about a bottle of bone discharge from the body of the “right jolly old elf” himself?

The miracle of manna, it’s called. Manna is the name of the sweet-smelling liquid supposedly coming out of the bones of Saint Nicholas, the gift-giving, 4th-century Greek bishop on whom the legend of Christmas Eve’s busiest man is based. It’s a liquid that apparently has robust healing powers. Every May 9th, the “Santa Manna” is removed by priests from St Nick’s tomb at the Basilica of St Nicholas in Bari, put in glass bottles and sold to pilgrims. It is then consumed as a drink or poured over an injured body part.

Firstly, eww. Secondly, for real?

The original mince pie scoffer earned a reputation in the 4th century for secret gift-giving. Legend has it that he famously helped a poor man with three daughters, who couldn’t afford a dowry for them to get married. Nicholas delivered 3 bags of gold coins to the poor man by dropping them down the chimney (so that he couldn’t be seen). One of the daughters had just washed her stockings that evening and hung them over the embers to dry, so the bags of coins ended up falling in the stockings.

Mmmm. Sounds familiar.

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Christmas is nothing to do with Jesus… The final book in “The East Pudding Chronicles” is released

Children's book, ChristmasEvening all! As you know, in addition to writing about history’s biggest mysteries and conspiracies each week — and working on the Million Eyes Trilogy and the Million Eyes Short Stories — I’ve been writing a series of children’s books for the last five years called The East Pudding Chronicles. I’ve just released the fifth and final book in the series, The First Christmas, which is my swansong in the children’s books arena. For now anyway.

The stories are about the ‘alternative’ origins of Christmas and Christmas traditions. Each one is framed as a story that a grandmother tells to her two grandchildren on Christmas Eve, and each story is set in the village of East Pudding. In East Pudding, the evil witch Murmur is bent on destroying Christmas, but her actions keep inadvertently bringing about the traditions we hold dear.

The first book, The Christmas Monster, shows how Santa Claus came to be. The second, The Merry Mrs Mistle, is about why we kiss under the mistletoe. The third, Tale of the Twinkles, explains why we pull Christmas crackers. The fourth, Plight of the Witch Watchers, reveals why we put up Christmas trees.

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5 More Christmas Conspiracies and Urban Legends – Band Aid, Magic Mushrooms and the Jesus Lie

In the first part of my festive collection of conspiracy theories and urban legends, I looked at some sinister Santa secrets, an X Factor conspiracy against Christmas songs and mince pies made from human flesh. Part 2 looks at five more hidden ‘truths’ behind the curtain of fairy lights…

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1. Jesus wasn’t born on Christmas Day

Claim – Traditionally Christmas is regarded as the annual celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, December 25th being the day he was born. In fact, the true origin of Christmas is nothing to do with Jesus. Before it was ‘Christ’s Mass’, it was a pagan tradition, which Christians re-branded in order to steer people away from paganism.

Truth? – Most scholars, including Christians, agree that Jesus was not in fact born on December 25th and that his birthday is actually unknown. Christmas used to be a pagan winter festival, centred on the winter solstice, and plenty of the traditions we have today have their roots in these festivals – including Christmas trees, gift-giving, Yule logs and decorations. ‘Yule’ used to be a pagan festival in late December in Scandinavia. December 25th used to be the birthday of the Roman sun god. It only became Jesus’ birthday when the first Christian Roman emperor – Constantine – decided it should.

Given that last week I was talking about Christians getting all het-up about a conspiracy to secularise Christmas, there’s a wonderful irony here. Surely you can argue that, since Christians basically hijacked a festival that was originally nothing to do with Jesus, secularists are simply taking it back?

Happy Holidays! 😉

2. A Sony conspiracy to make more money from the Christmas charts

Claim – Last week I talked about an X Factor conspiracy against Christmas songs, because of all the non-festive, pedestrian bore-fests released as winners’ singles, which keep seizing the UK Christmas Number 1. In 2009, Jon and Tracy Morter decided to do something about this, launching a Facebook campaign to prevent X Factor winner Joe McElderry from bagging the top spot. Their plan was to get people to buy Killing in the Name by Rage Against The Machine instead. It worked – Killing in the Name was Christmas Number 1.

However, it came to light that the same company – Sony BMG – was making money from both songs. Both Joe McElderry and Rage Against The Machine were signed to Sony-owned record labels. An elaborate Christmas marketing ploy?

Truth? – I suppose we’ll never know the truth on this one. What we do know is that X Factor’s Simon Cowell was calling the campaign to knock Joe off the top spot “stupid” and “cynical”. And that Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello dismissed conspiracy claims, calling them “ridiculous” and saying that Sony doesn’t even speak to them anymore.

All I know is that I was over the moon that Joe’s bland, puke-inducing ballad The Climb was pipped to the post by epic rock song Killing in the Name – which is now heard at Christmas parties!

3. Santa is DEAD!

Claim – Okay, so Santa himself isn’t dead (someone’s eating the mince pies and sherry I leave out every Christmas Eve). But there is an urban legend that a father once pretended to go on a business trip, dressed up as Santa Claus and went down the chimney to surprise his family. He then became wedged in the chimney, broke his neck and died. It was only when his family lit the fire and smelled burning flesh that they discovered the father’s charred, rotting body stuck up the chimney flue.

Truth? – This story seems to come in several forms and is generally regarded as a myth. An archetypical urban legend juxtaposing joy and tragedy. Interestingly, the urban legend was used as character backstory in the 1984 movie Gremlins. Phoebe Cates’ character, Kate, told a story about how her father, dressed as Santa, got stuck in the chimney with a bag of toys and died.

And similar incidents have happened in real-life. In 2010, a doctor tried to sneak down the chimney into her ex-lover’s house and died after getting wedged in the chimney flue. She was discovered three days later when the house-sitter noticed a smell and, urm, fluids coming from the fireplace. Grim!

4. The Band Aid Conspiracy

'Saint Bob'

‘Saint Bob’

Claim – Band Aid 30 has been hugely controversial this year. Many people have denounced Band Aid’s latest efforts to raise money, this time to fight Ebola in West Africa, with yet another version of Do They Know It’s Christmas? Some have called it patronising, misleading and hypocritical. Aging rocker Bob Geldof, the man behind the campaign, has said that he enjoys the criticism because it gives Band Aid more publicity.

Ah, but publicity for who? Lurking behind the smokescreen of fighting poverty and Ebola, is Band Aid really just a PR stunt for Bob Geldof? Is Band Aid simply about making Bob Geldof rich?

Truth? – We’ll never know what goes on in Bob Geldof’s head, behind all that hair. But let’s look at the facts. Before the first Band Aid release of Do They Know It’s Christmas? in 1984, Geldof was the lead singer of fledgling band The Boomtown Rats, who were failing in the charts.

But Geldof’s involvement in Band Aid, Live Aid, Live 8 and all his other anti-poverty campaigns have turned Geldof into a multi-millionaire. Interest in The Boomtown Rats was rekindled, leading to a sell-out tour shortly after the first Band Aid. Then Geldof’s 1986 autobiography, Is that It?, became a UK best-seller. And over the last thirty years, he has proceeded to make bags of cash for doing public speaking about Third World poverty. I read in one article that he was paid $100,000 to do a short speech in Australia on the subject.

The Boomtown Rats reformed in 2013, released a greatest hits album and are currently touring. A new version of Do They Know It’s Christmas? was released in late 2014 to massive chart success and huge press attention for Geldof – good and bad. Coincidence?

What else do we know? Bob Geldof likes to keep a firm hold on his millions. He’s known for using tax avoidance schemes. Given that a proportion of our tax goes towards foreign aid, this has led to many people branding him a hypocrite for demanding that the public buy the new Band Aid 30 single. How much money has Geldof actually donated himself to all his causes? We don’t know, but according to some websites, Geldof – an anti-poverty campaigner – is worth $150 million. What’s wrong with that sentence?

5. Flying Reindeer and Magic Mushrooms

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Claim – Where does the tradition of Santa and his flying reindeer come from? There’s a theory that it originates in Lapland with the indigenous Sami people. They would eat a certain species of magic mushroom called Fly Agaric (the red and white spotted toadstool you often see in fairytales), a mushroom that’s also eaten by reindeer. Its hallucinogenic effects include visions of flying and are said to have caused the Sami people to see flying reindeer, leading to the birth of the popular myth about Rudolph and his pals.

Truth? – This is just one of several theories about the origin of flying reindeer. Another very different theory is that the myth comes from a misreading of the famous Christmas poem, The Night Before Christmas. This is thanks to the frequent use of the words “fly” and “flew” and the reference to the reindeer moving “as fast as eagles”. But some argue that “fly” and “flew” in the poem are actually just metaphors for moving really fast.

For example, there is a line where the narrator says, “Away to the window, I flew like a flash”, which doesn’t mean he’s flying around his house. There’s another line referring to the moon shining on “objects below”, which the narrator then identifies as a sleigh pulled by reindeer. This suggests the sleigh is being driven through the snow on the ground. When “up to the housetop the coursers they flew”, the reindeer could simply be leaping up onto the roof. At the end, St Nick “drove out of sight”. Surely author Clement Clarke Moore wouldn’t have used the word “drive” if he imagined St. Nick and his reindeer to be in flight?

Alas, we may never know.

Next week: My examination of the world’s most famous conspiracy theory – the Roswell UFO encounter – continues. The first article looked at the events of 1947 and the second article looked at the events in the 1970s, when interest in Roswell rekindled. Next week’s third article looks more closely at all the stories about the recovery of alien bodies…

5 Christmas Conspiracies and Urban Legends – X Factor, Santa and mince pies made from human flesh

’Tis the season. But like all things good and jolly, Christmas has its share of secrets lurking beneath the tinsel. In the first of a two-part article, I’m looking at some festive urban legends and conspiracy theories…

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1. Santa Claus is actually Satan

Claim – Santa is actually Satan in disguise. The big giveaways are: Santa dresses in Satan’s favourite colour. He has supernatural powers. He flies around the world on the night before Jesus’ birthday. And most obviously, the letters in his name can be rearranged to spell ‘Satan’.

Truth? – Numerous websites out there are trying to persuade people that Santa is in fact Satan trying to distract people from the true message of Christmas, which is the birth of Jesus. One article, a ‘Special True Christian Report’, is reprinted on multiple sites, including The Conspiracy Zone, which got a few (dis)honourable mentions in my Disney Conspiracy article. The following quote is taken from that article:

“He just moved around the letters in the name ‘Satan’ into a sonogram and got ‘Santa’. Even his last name ‘Claus’ is Olde English for ‘hoof-claws’.”

Yes, he moved around the letters in ‘Satan’ into a sonogram. I’m sure this writer will cry tears of joy when he sees the anagram of his unborn child. But while I must admit I find it very entertaining reading these fundamentalist Christian conspiracy theories, this one simply isn’t true. I don’t just mean that Satan himself is mythical nonsense (that’s a whole other debate). I mean that the name ‘Santa Claus’ has nothing to do with Satan. It derives from Sinterklaas, the Dutch version of Saint Nicholas. ‘Sinterklaas’ basically Chinese whispered its way into American English as Santa Claus. And I think the writer plucked ‘hoof-claws’ straight out of his bum.

2. Santa Claus used to be a child-eating monster, but he changed his ways

Claim – Santa wasn’t always the kind and generous figure we know today. In fact, he used to be a monster/demon who would slither down chimneys and kill and eat children, or stuff them into a sack to eat later. He only changed his ways when a holy man caught up to him and forced him to make amends by visiting each house and delivering gifts to the children instead. The holy man made the demon do this every year. In time, the demon recruited elves to help him carry out his annual gift-giving and he became Santa Claus.

Atnas, from my children's book 'The Christmas Monster'

Atnas, from my children’s book ‘The Christmas Monster’

Truth? – Apparently this story originates in Germanic folklore. It actually served as the inspiration for one of my children’s books, The East Pudding Chronicles: The Christmas Monster (there’s more information about this on my Books page). While I can’t substantiate it, there are other similarly gory stories. The legend of the Tomtin, for example. Little dwarf-like creatures who wore red and, accompanied by their leader, would sneak into houses, drag children from their beds and ask questions about their religions. If the children answered correctly, the Tomtin would reward them with an apple or sweet. If the Tomtin weren’t happy with their answers, they would beat them with sticks, chains and coals and drink the blood from their wounds. Over time, the image of the Tomtin and their leader softened, and they became Santa and his elves!

And in a tradition that persists in Alpine countries today, a beast-like creature called the Krampus is celebrated. In folklore, the Krampus is Saint Nicholas’ companion, whose job is to kidnap naughty children and take them to his lair, while Saint Nicholas rewards the good children with presents.

3. X Factor is trying to rid the world of Christmas songs

Claim – Simon Cowell and his X Factor troupe have a vendetta against Christmas songs. That’s why they’ve been seizing the Christmas Number One spot since 2005, with winners’ singles that are less ‘mince pies with a glass of sherry’ than ‘mature cheddar with a side helping of vomit’.

Truth? – You’d be forgiven for believing that there is an X Factor conspiracy against Christmas songs after having to endure the trite, empty and distinctly un-festive pop ballads they put out every year. They’re nearly always bland covers of much better songs, and nothing to do with Christmas. Shayne Ward’s That’s My Goal, Leona Lewis’ A Moment Like This, Leon Jackson’s When You Believe, Alexandra Burke’s Hallelujah, Matt Cardle’s When We Collide and Sam Bailey’s Skyscraper have all stolen the Christmas Number One spot in the UK Charts. People buy them because they’ve just won the X Factor, not because they care about music.

Leon who?

Leon who?

I suspect, however, that the reasons for this are less about a vendetta against Christmas songs (it was apparently Simon Cowell’s suggestion that Leona Lewis make her Christmas album), and more about Simon’s desires to take over the world with mediocre pop.

4. There is a war on Christmas

Claim – Atheists and non-Christians, and corporations and governments trying to appease atheists and non-Christians, are conspiring to take the ‘Christ’ out of Christmas, to secularise what is really a Christian celebration. All in the name of political correctness.

Truth? – To some extent, this seems to be true, though more in the US than the UK. In US TV series and movies, I’ve heard characters refer to ‘the holidays’ rather than Christmas. In several US cities, Christmas trees have been renamed ‘holiday trees’, which has prompted backlash. At one stage, retailers Wal-Mart and Best Buy Corporation avoided the word ‘Christmas’ in their advertising, sparking an outcry. Best Buy’s justification was that several holidays take place during November and December (including the Jewish holiday Hanukkah) and they wanted to be respectful to all of them.

Not all of the war on Christmas allegations hold water. In the UK, people accused Birmingham City Council of trying to oust Christmas by calling their seasonal festivities ‘Winterval’. But the council’s response was that plenty of Christmas-related words and symbols were used in the advertising, including banners saying ‘Merry Christmas’. And those arguing that people who write ‘Xmas’ instead of Christmas are part of the anti-Christmas brigade are misinformed; ‘X’ is actually an historic abbreviation of ‘Christ’.

I’m an atheist. But I’m anti-political correctness too, particularly when it’s unnecessary and because of oversensitivity. I’m not offended by Christmas because it has ‘Christ’ in it. That’s what I’ve always known it to be. To me, Christmas is already secular – without requiring a name change. Christmas is about putting up decorations, singing Christmas songs, being with your family, giving gifts, eating turkey, pulling crackers, watching Doctor Who and, if you’re lucky, getting a visit from Santa on Christmas Eve.

Who’s Jesus?

5. Mince pies used to contain human flesh

Claim – The mince pie was invented by a group of cannibals in the 16th century, who decided to make little Christmas pies with fruit, spices and minced meat – diced pieces of flesh from their human victims. Mince pies today no longer contain meat in order to distance this staple Christmas tradition from its bloody origins.

Yum...

Yum…

Truth? – All right, I confess. I made that one up. But the mincemeat in mince pies did used to contain meat; that part is true. Normally beef or mutton. It was only in the 20th century that mincemeat – despite keeping its name – started to become the meatless fruit and spice mixture we know today.

I will now get back to watching Sweeney Todd.

Next week: Five more Christmas conspiracies and urban legends