December 25

Merry Christmas, everyone. Or as they say in some Celtic parts of the British Isles: Blythe Yule!

I thought I might include a few curious Christmas facts to enlighten your journey through this sacred and festive season.

Let’s begin with The Pooper, or the “caganer” as he is known in northeastern Spain.  In the Catalonian region it has long been the custom to place in every nativity scene a caganer, the figure of a red-capped peasant who has dropped his drawers and is in the act of defecating. This has been the case since at least the sixteenth century and is probably some sort of fertility symbol, though now retailers have got into the act and will happily sell you a figurine of a pooping pope, politician, soccer star or actress. In 2005 the administration of Barcelona committed an outrage on public decency by failing to include a caganer in the city’s official nativity scene. Many saw this an affront to Catalan customs and thus a not-so-subtle attack on demands for greater political autonomy in Catalonia. The government said this was not the case at all but that the city had just passed ordinances banning public urination and defecation which made the caganer a bad example for urban hygiene. A “Save the Caganer” campaign was launched with wide media support and the next year the official pooper was back on the scene.

As well as being the Feast of the Nativity, December 25 is also sacred to the memory of St. Anastasia. She was a Christian martyr, legendarily a noblewoman noted for her kindness to the poor and martyred on December 25 in Diocletian’s persecutions of the late third century. By the fifth century her cult was well-established in Rome with devotions centred on the Church of St Anastasia (which may have been named after the Greek word for resurrection). Though her popularity diminished in the Middle Ages, she is commemorated in the second of the three Christmas masses celebrated by the pope every Christmas morning in the church of St Anastasia.

You might wonder if Santa Claus really has a wife. As a bishop Saint Nicholas was, of course, celibate but his spiritual descendant Santa Claus has at various times and places been blessed with a spouse. Katherine Lee Bates, author of “America the Beautiful”, spoke of her in the 1889 story “Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride”. There she asks

Santa, must I tease in vain, dear? Let me go and hold the reindeer,/ While you clamber down the chimneys. Don’t look savage as a Turk!/ Why should you have all the glory of the joyous Christmas story,/ And poor little Goody Santa Claus have nothing but the work?

In Finland she is known as Mother Christmas; in Austria she is the Nikolofrau and has the reputation of being a bit shrewish. In Switzerland she goes by the name of Lucy while in the Netherlands she has been known to answer to Molly Grietja.

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