FH#59  St. Valentine was beaten to death with clubs?

 

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Cue the mushy music, break out the chocolates, take a wee moment to smell that garland of  roses, and count those cards again, because, if you didn’t know that it’s St. Valentine’s day you’re either out of luck, or an incurable grouch.

We’ll get to the sad fate of the man after whom the day is named, a little later.

One thing you can say about St. Valentine—purveyor of love and affection, hero to cardmakers, choclatiers, intimate restaurants, the Post Office, and maternity hospitals around the middle of November—is that the various Churches in which he is revered, work the man very hard indeed. The afterlife doesn’t necessarily mean a restful retirement for holy men. Valentine is not just the patron saint of lovers you see. He doesn’t get any downtime after mid-February. In addition to his patronage of love, amour, amore, liebe, STDs and lovebites, he is also the patron saint of beekeepers. He is charged with their protection and with the sweetness of honey. Not only that but he is patron saint AGAINST epilepsy, fainting and the bubonic plague. He’s been doing quite well on the latter in recent years.

The man himself was a Christian martyr who met a sad and violent end around the year 270 AD in Rome, where his skull is still exhibited to this day. But, fear not, apparently a small vessel containing some of his blood—which has survived remarkably well after one thousand seven hundred and fifty odd years—is on display in the Carmelite Church in Whitefriar Street in Dublin. Hopefully it’s the blood of the correct Valentine, because apparently there are around a dozen saints and martyrs of that name who feature in regional Christian church lists. The most recent one was canonised in 1988. There is even a Pope Valentine, but he only lasted in office for forty days, in 827, so, wisely perhaps, no pontiff has assumed the name since the ninth century.

Is it significant, one wonders,  that, apparently, there are no churches dedicated to St. Valentine in buttoned-down England, while there are dozens in his name in amorous Italy? Which brings to mind the title of that long-running 1970s farce No Sex Please We’re British. It ran in the West End for sixteen years. One of the Italian churches named after him was situated in the 1960 Rome Olympic village, though, by all accounts, the presence of St. Valentine is not essential for lustful carry-on in Olympic villages.

The problem with Valentine and all the saccharine of the day associated with his name, is that he was a Christian martyr. There is no getting away from the fact, as you sip your first prosecco of the night and dive into the Quality Street, that poor Valentine, to whom you owe tonight’s date with your outrageously handsome or beautiful escort, came to a very bad end indeed.

As regards the poor man’s demise, there is some clubbing involved, but not of the type that you might hope to be indulging in later tonight if that romantic dinner goes well. As with most of the early saints and martyrs, the precise details of his passing are disputed. But the consensus seems to be that he fell foul of the Roman Emperor Claudius, not the I Claudius of the Robert Graves books, who was a good egg, but Claudius the Second, who was more of a hard-boiled type. Valentine, or Valentinus to give him his Roman name, was accused of marrying Christian couples, hence his designation as patron saint of lovers. But Claudius the Second was a tad unsentimental about Christian nuptials. In fact he didn’t approve of Christians of any stripe. Aiding and abetting Christianity was a capital offence in third century Rome.

Claudius ordered that Valentine should be beaten to death with clubs—not the sort of end that we would associate with such a mushily romantic figure. The good news is that the beating failed to kill him. The bad news is that he was then beheaded, which did. Spare a thought for his dreadful end as the maitre d’ escorts you to your table tonight. Actually … maybe save your reflections until tomorrow. Contemplating beatings and beheadings as you order the starter might spoil your appetite, or ruin that all-important frisson as you gaze rapturously into the eyes of your dinner date.

But as to the ultimate fate of St. Valentine, patron saint of lovers and beekeepers, was he beaten to death with clubs? No, he was decapitated, so that’s fake history. Do enjoy your evening.

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FH #58  Did the first lynching take place in Galway in 1493?

 

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As Galway has been Ireland’s Capital of Culture for decades it’s only fitting that it becomes Europe’s official capital of Culture for 2020 this week. One wonders though if the year-long celebration will encompass the enduring myth (or even history) of a former mayor of the city James Lynch Fitzstephen, who, according to local legend, in 1493, invoking his magisterial powers, condemned his own son to death for the murder of a Spanish visitor who was a rival for the affections of a local woman. Legend has it that when no one could be found to execute his son Fitzstephen performed the sorry task himself by hanging the young lad from a window in Market Street.

It may be history, it may simply be legend but one thing is certain, it has given rise to an enduring parallel mythology that credits James Lynch Fitzstephen with inadvertently originating the term ‘lynching’, as in an extra-judicial hanging. The Fitzstephen story doesn’t even have to be true for the alleged incident to have become the basis of the coinage of that ugliest of words. Neither does it really matter that the execution of the young Fitzstephen was not an illegal act—he had actually been condemned to death— nor that, logically, if the word followed the deed we should be talking about the unfortunate victims of ‘Fitzstephening’ rather than ‘lynching’.

However, we need to visit the more natural habitat of this barbaric practice, the American South, to establish whether a late fifteenth century Mayor of Galway’s name has been gruesomely immortalised or not.

The word itself may well have had a relatively benign genesis. American sources claim that it comes, not from fifteenth century Galway, but from the American revolution of the late eighteenth century. It appears that a Virginia Quaker named Charles Lynch took it upon himself during the US War of Independence, to incarcerate loyalist supporters of British rule without the proper authority. When the British abandoned their unruly colony, Lynch sought retrospective legal jurisdiction just in case he was sued by any of his former prisoners. The resulting legislation became known as ‘Lynch’s Law’, which morphed into ‘Lynch Law’ and gradually began to mean the assumption of extra-judicial authority.

It became a verb in the aftermath of the American Civil War as white southerners fought to reassert some of their authority over millions of freed slaves who now, perish the thought, even had the right to vote.

One of the great heroes of nineteenth century American journalism, Ida B. Wells, born into slavery herself in 1862, just before emancipation, became editor of a newspaper called Free Speech and Headlight in 1889. That same year a friend of hers, who had set up a business competing with white-owned concerns in Memphis, Tennessee was lynched by a white mob. That set Ida Wells on the journey for which she is most celebrated, documenting the incidences and the rationale behind the evil practice of lynching in the post-Civil War South

She exposed the lie that most black men were lynched for sexual assaults on white women – instead she found that most black men were targeted for challenging southern white supremacy in the economic or political field. Lynching, far from being a response to inter-racial rape, was a form of social control. The worst example of the practice was the so-called Great Hanging of Gainesville, Texas in October 1862 where forty-one black men were hanged by a white mob. Ida Wells published her findings in Southern Horror: Lynch Law in all its Phases in 1892. In the book she was unequivocal in her advocacy of self-defensive measures

‘A Winchester rifle,’ she wrote, ‘should have a place of honour in every black home, and it should be used for that protection which the law refuses to give. ‘

After the book appeared the offices of her newspaper were torched and she was forced to flee to New York which hadn’t lynched too many African-Americans since the 1863 Draft Riots.

In 1915 the epic silent movie, Birth of a Nation, highlighted the gruesome practice, except that the director, D.W. Griffith, seemed to think it was a good idea.  Between 1880 and 1951 independent research has recorded almost five thousand lynchings in the USA. Most took place in the states of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Texas and Louisiana and around 70% of the victims were African-American men and women.

So, when it comes to the dispute over where the word lynching comes from, fifteenth century Galway, or revolutionary America … does it really matter?

 

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FH #57  Did Brexit mark the first major split in the British Conservative party since its formation? 

 

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Robert Peel

It all came to an end on 31 January, after a huge split in the Tory party and might never have happened had it not been for Ireland. And, as most you have probably guessed by now I’m not talking about Brexit because we all love our little bit of misdirection on radio and besides Brexit will not be coming to an end anytime soon.

 

I’m talking about the final resolution of one of the previous apocalyptic convulsions in British politics, the repeal of the Corn Laws. It was also bubbling under for a couple of decades and then took three years of close combat to resolve. While a negotiated Brexit might never have happened without the intervention of Leo Varadkar, the Repeal of the Corn Laws probably owe their passage to a rather more doleful event in Irish history, the Great Famine.

 

The Corn Laws were, not to put too fine a point on it, a mechanism devised by the British landowning classes—represented by the Conservative party—to preserve their money and privileges. Nowadays this is achieved in Eton, Harrow, Oxford, Cambridge and the City of London. The Corn Laws ensured that imported grain, mostly from the USA, was subjected to tariffs that allowed the aristocracy to continue to obtain ridiculously high prices for their home grown grain. This made bread, the staple diet of the working class, far more expensive than should have been the case in nineteenth century Britain. Had cheaper imported American grain been used in the making of flour, bread would have been more plentiful and less expensive.

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As the industrial revolution of the early nineteenth century began to take hold in Britain representatives of the new entrepreneurial class—represented by the Whig party—began to flex their political muscles and resist artificially high corn prices. Change required the repeal of a raft of legislation known, collectively, as the Corn Laws. Opponents of this tariff regime adopted the singularly unimaginative name of the Anti Corn Law League, rather than something flashier like Buy Alien Corn Cheap or BACC for short.

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MISTER Richard Cobden

When it comes to figuring out who stood with the ordinary Joe it might help to look at the names of two of those involved on either side of the argument. One of the main protagonists of the Anti Corn Law League was Mister Richard Cobden – the leading light of their opponents, the Central Agricultural Protection Society (or CAPS for short, the aristos were better at branding) was the Duke of Richmond. He may well have been a perfectly lovely man, and he was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, but he was still a Duke. Dukes tended to have a rather different perspective on life, and things like bread, than plain Misters or Mistresses. Dukes, for example, could afford cake.

 

So where did Ireland come into all of this?

 

Well, with the Conservatives in power in the 1840s, under Robert Peel – dubbed Orange Peel by Daniel O’Connell on account of his unionism – there wasn’t a locust’s chance in a desert of the Corn Laws being repealed. Until the potato blight in 1845 led to changed priorities for Prime Minister Peel. Faced with famine in Ireland he recommended that the Corn Laws be swept away and cheap grain be imported from America to feed the starving Irish. Just in case the House of Commons said ‘No’ he went ahead and bought some anyway on the quiet.

Ranged against him was a sizeable proportion of his own party. Peel persisted and, with the help of the opposition Whigs, forced through legislation which would lead to the final elimination of the Corn Laws one hundred and seventy one years ago today. One wonders did Theresa May ever think about Robert Peel, and the assistance he received from the main opposition party in the House of Commons in the passage of his controversial legislation.

There then followed an election campaign contested against the background of the slogan ‘Let’s get the Corn Laws done’ – actually that’s a bit of a porkie. It didn’t happen like that at all. Abandoned by a majority of the members of his party Peel was booted out of office and was replaced by a Whig administration that managed to make about as big a mess of the Irish famine as it was possible to do without actually hanging half the population. The supporters of Peel, one of whom was a young Tory MP by the name of William Gladstone, joined forces with the Whigs to form the Liberal party in 1859.

 

Interestingly, when the Tories came back to power under Benjamin Disraeli they did not restore the Corn Laws. The Prime Minister proclaimed that the matter was settled and that it was now time to move on, so, no second referendum, as it were.

 

If you think that Brexit was the first major convulsion of the Tory party since its foundation, then you’ve probably never heard of the massive split provoked by the Corn Laws. That’s fake history.

 

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Tory ERG members seeking a fair deal on trade with the EU from Michel Barnier and Phil Hogan. I think.

 

FH #56 Did Queen Victoria lead a cloistered and sheltered life?

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Had she been spared, Queen Victoria would have been two hundred and one years old last Wednesday. Which, despite her actual longevity, is probably a bit of a stretch to contemplate. But as England gets its fondest wish on 31 January and seems set for a wholehearted return to the era named after her, it’s probably worth taking a closer look and asking did Old Queen Vic really lead a cloistered and sheltered life in which piano legs were covered for fear that they would become a gateway drug to unbridled admiration of the female appendage of the same name.

Let’s start with her title. Because, you see, her official name wasn’t Victoria at all. She was named Alexandrina after her godfather, Tsar Alexander I of Russia. Had she not preferred her second name, Victoria, we might be talking today about wildfires in the Australian state of Alexandrina, or the retail outlet Alexandrina’s Secret. She would probably have disapproved heartily of the latter as there is no evidence that she had a penchant for sexy lingerie.

When she was born, the odds against her becoming monarch at the time she did were prohibitive. She was fifth in line to the throne behind her father and three uncles. She had about as much chance of becoming Queen as Barbara Windsor, after whom the Royal family is now named. But, one by one the prior claimants succumbed. If you were a conspiracy theorist you might even start to think … but let’s not go there.

She was the first reigning monarch to occupy Buckingham Palace. Royal histories record her as ‘adding a new wing’ to the establishment, which suggests that she might also have been the first reigning monarch to engage in manual labour. Probably best not to take the accounts literally though.

As regards the cloistered existence bit, she was certainly kept away from the hoi polloi when she was a young princess, she was even made to share a bedroom with her mother until she became Queen, so no chance of interaction on social media, the dominant form of the day being something called ‘the letter’ which appears to have involved actual writing, with no abbreviations.  Ha, LOL!

However, she was exposed to one of the most common pursuits of many of the crowned heads of Europe at the time, surviving attempted assassination. At least six people, all men, tried to kill her in a variety of ways, mostly by taking pot shots at her. She was only wounded once, in 1850, when an enterprising assassin struck her with an iron-tipped cane.

A mad Scottish poet, Roderick MacLean, plotted to kill her eight times before he finally made his own failed attempt. Apparently his resentment was because she had been a tad caustic about some poetry he sent her. The episode prompted the infamous Scottish versifier, William McGonagall—the world’s worst poet —to pen one of his own deplorable rhymes.

Maclean must be a madman,
Which is obvious to be seen,
Or else he wouldn’t have tried to shoot
Our most beloved Queen.

And that’s more than enough about Scottish poets.

Victoria’s latter years were spent as a virtual recluse in Balmoral in the Scottish highlands after the death of her beloved husband Prince Albert, for whom a well-known piercing was named, but only long after his death when he could no longer seek an injunction. Her diary suggests that she thoroughly enjoyed their wedding night. In it she wrote …

‘I never, never spent such an evening!! My dearest dearest dear Albert … his         excessive love & affection gave me feelings of heavenly love & happiness I never could have hoped to have felt before!’

Indeed!

Many years after the death of Albert, Victoria may or may not have had an affair with her personal attendant, John Brown. There are even allegations that she secretly married him. Victorian gossips took to calling her ‘Mrs. Brown’, so Brendan O’Carroll didn’t get there first. When she died she was buried with a lock of John Brown’s hair, his photograph, his mother’s wedding ring, and a number of his letters. As he had predeceased her he didn’t join her in the coffin himself.

Half a dozen assassination attempts, a passionate marriage and an alleged affair later in life suggest that, despite her restrictive childhood and her self-imposed reclusiveness in widowhood, the notion of a cloistered Victorian existence for Britain’s second longest reigning monarch, is fake history.

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FH#55 Is Presidential impeachment actually worse than the Salem Witch trials?

 

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Late last year a penitent Donald Trump wrote a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi taking full responsibility for his actions in the Ukraine scandal and admitting to a whole host of impeachable offences.

Now, if you’ll excuse me for a second or two we just need to switch the dial and journey back from that parallel universe. Because, of course, President Trump did precisely the opposite. The bit about the letter is true though, you may remember it. It was six pages long, only the numbers at the bottom of each page made much sense, and the President, who is, of course, an acknowledged expert in 17th century US history, observed that …

I have been denied the most fundamental rights under the constitution … more            due process was afforded to those accused in the Salem Witch trials.

Far be it from me to challenge the authority of a man who has obviously spent hours poring over dusty and obscure documents from the history of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, when he should have been reading his daily CIA briefing, but his controversial utterance does seem to invite some rigorous analysis. So, let’s examine the validity of the suggestion that the impeachment process is odious in comparison with the procedures employed in the prosecution for witchcraft of a large number of women, and a much smaller number of men, in the rural community of Salem village, Massachusetts, in 1692.

Perhaps we should start with the response of the current Mayor of Salem, Kim Driscoll, to the President’s thesis.

‘Oy vey…again. Learn some history’ she tweeted,  ‘Salem 1692 = absence of evidence + powerless, innocent victims were hanged or pressed to death. #Ukraniegate 2019 = ample evidence + admissions of wrongdoing + perpetrators are among the most powerful and privileged.’

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Straightaway we need to enter a caveat here. Because Kim Driscoll is a lazy ‘do-nothing’ Democrat, and is also the Mayor of Salem Town, not Salem village where, in 1692, the uproar actually took place. Back in the 17th century the two entities were deadly rivals, Salem town being much wealthier than the adjoining village of the same name. The patent lack of objectivity in the Mayor’s tweet, as well as her gender, suggests that Kim Driscoll may indeed be a witch herself.

The Salem witch trials were symptomatic of suspicion of one’s neighbour and the fear of outsiders, a phenomenon that, happily, has no place in President Trump’s America.  Were Arthur Miller alive today he would undoubtedly focus on the agony of Presidential impeachment rather than the Salem witch trials for his allegorical play about McCarthyism, The Crucible.

The Salem commotion arose when two young children began to have fits and accused a number of local women of bewitching them. The resulting witchcraft trials led to the hanging of nineteen women and the formal crushing to death of the single male victim, Giles Corey, husband of one of the alleged witches.  Much of the testimony at the trials was so-called ‘spectral evidence’ where the witnesses recounted incriminating dreams rather than offering factual accounts of their experiences. As the record of the House of Representatives will show, spectral evidence, though encouraged by the Republican minority, was not accepted during the impeachment process. Neither is it likely that President Trump will ever be pressed to death under a pile of stones (the fate of Giles Corey).

One other major point of contrast is that in 1711 a shamefaced Massachusetts legislature retrospectively exonerated the condemned witches and offered financial restitution to their families. Impeachment, however, is not subject to retroactive pardons (unless the President opts to pardon himself) and it is unlikely that Ivanka, Eric, Donald Jr. or any other Trump dependent will be getting a cheque in the past anytime soon from a chastened House of Representatives.

So, is the impeachment process actually worse than the Salem witch trials? Given that no one has ever been executed for high crimes and misdemeanours committed as US President, thus far at any rate, that’s probably fake news. Sorry, I obviously meant fake history.

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FH#51  Jesus Christ was born on December 25th?

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The timing couldn’t be better, at least in the northern hemisphere. Although we’ll have just had the shortest day of the year we will still be in the grip of the dark season with barely eight hours of daylight at Irish latitudes. Even the malign effects of global warming won’t mitigate the seasonally low temperatures. Could there be a better time to have a massive week long party (or more like two weeks if you don’t work in an essential industry, or retail)? Which is why it’s highly unlikely that the man after whom Christianity is named was actually born on the day also named after him.

While Jesus Christ was undoubtedly an historical figure who caused anxiety to the Romans towards the beginning of the first millennium, there were numerous compelling reasons for fixing his birthday at the end of December every year. None have anything to do with the timing of his actual birth.

So, where did Christians come by the date the 25th of December and decide to fix it as the birthdate of Christ? The answer is they didn’t, or at least not all of them.  Roman Catholics and Protestants celebrate Christmas at the end of December. But in places like Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, Belarus, Egypt and many other countries, Orthodox Christians still use the Julian calendar, and celebrate the feast day on 7 January. Only aficionados of the more recent Gregorian Calendar opt for 25 December. Which, of course means, that clever  Orthodox Christians who have migrated to Western Europe, get to celebrate twice as much as the rest of us over an extended Christmas period. If they’ve emigrated to the USA they get a third knees up, at Thanksgiving, in late November.

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Who chose the 25th December as Catholic Christmas in the first place, you might well ask? And the answer would be Pope Julius 1, bless his red socks. He called it the Feast of the Nativity and, when he named the day, he probably didn’t have in mind an orgy of high street and online selling. But then the American Pilgrim Fathers probably had no idea they would ultimately establish Black Friday when they began to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Christmas wasn’t an instant hit either. Julius named the day in the 4th century, AD obviously, but it didn’t catch on in Europe until 400 years later. Such was the determined rivalry from Thanksgiving that it didn’t become a national holiday in the USA until 1870. Odd that, from the nation that invented the image of the jolly, red cheeked, white-bearded Santa Claus, albeit via the pen of the German-born cartoonist Thomas Nast.

And what was it that possessed Julius to opt for 25th December as the Feast of the Nativity? Well, in the best mercantile traditions of Christmas it was to see off the competition. The teachings of Jesus Christ were slower to make inroads than you might think. There are those who would argue vehemently that his ideas are yet to catch on to this day. Back in the fourth century anno domini the good people of Europe still clung to many of their pagan beliefs and red letter days. So Pope Julius had a bright idea. They could hang on to their bleak midwinter festival, but he would rebrand it as nothing less than the birth day of Christ himself. Think of the Marathon bar becoming Snickers. Or was it the other way around?

Of course the English Puritans, twelve hundred years later, were wise to the Julian PR coup. They spotted that there was no reference to the date of Christ’s birth in the bible. They suspected that an earlier Roman Antichrist (they loved their demonic hyperbole those Puritans) had merely lifted a pagan festival, mistletoe, yule logs and all, and put a Christian gloss on it. So, in 1644 they outlawed Christmas. Three years later they did the same with Easter and Whit Sunday. American Puritans, anxious to assert the superiority of that quintessentially All-American feast day, Thanksgiving, did likewise.

However, even the Puritans were forced to bow the knee to retail. With the rise of Chambers of Commerce and the restoration of the Monarchy, Christmas was restored to its full glory just in time to be turned by the Victorians into the festival we know today, where monthly household food spending increases by 20% and alcohol purchases soar by 30%. That grating sound you hear is not Santa Claus coming down the chimney, it’s Oliver Cromwell and the American Pilgrim Fathers turning in their graves.

So, was Jesus Christ born on Christmas Day? Well, there’s always a one in three hundred and sixty five chance that he was, but, on balance, probably not.

 

Fake Histories #50  Santa Claus is an entirely fictional character?

 

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One of the purveyors of this particular blasphemy was none other than the wisecracking, avuncular, piano virtuoso Chico Marx himself. It happened in the manic Marx Brothers movie hit from 1935, A Night at the Opera. Chico is playing off his brother Groucho in one of the best comic scenes in this still hilarious movie. The two men are discussing a contract, the contents of which Chico doesn’t much like. Groucho is, quite literally, tearing strips off it, physically deleting its terms until the two are down to a tiny strip of paper. Chico inquires about this final residue of the original document. Groucho assures him, ‘It’s all right. That’s, in every contract. It’s what they call a sanity clause.
‘You can’t fool me.’Chico hits back. ‘There ain’t no Sanity Clause.’

And there you have it, at its most stark, the sinister allegation from a childlike vaudeville performer that Santa Claus is a figment of the childish imagination. The first thing to be said in refutation of this pernicious heresy is that Chico, as a Marxist, would have been a logical positivist, scorning religion and magic in the same way as he rejected market-led capitalism. To Chico, an acolyte of his namesake, Karl, religion was ‘pie in the sky when you die’ and Santa Claus was ‘a faux ho ho ho in the midwinter snow’.

Of course, with the collapse of European communism in 1989, Santa Claus had the last ‘ho ho ho’.

But who exactly is Santa Claus, other than an extremely generous inhabitant of the North Pole whose gig economy elves should have been unionised centuries ago?

Apparently, he’s a fourth century bishop who became St. Nicholas. Bishop Nicholas was a wealthy man who gave covert gifts to the poor. The secretive nature of his bounty derived from his reluctance to offend his fellow aristocrats, who merely exploited them. The origin of many Christmas practices seems to have come from a gift he bestowed on an impoverished householder with three daughters. The unfortunate man could not afford the dowries required to marry them off. So, Nicholas climbed up on the man’s roof and dropped a bag of gold down the chimney. This got stuck in a stocking that had been hung out to dry, et voila, we have the very first Christmas present. After his death St. Nicholas, in spiritual form, appears to have ramped up his operation to include children all over the world. At what point he requisitioned a sleigh and recruited his reindeer is still a fertile area of historical dispute. English nationalists, for example, claim that it was a leftover chariot from the warlike Queen Boudicca. Obviously with the whirling swords removed from its spokes.

As is the case with other magical beings—the Tooth Fairy is a perfect example— there have been doubts expressed by professional grinches and curmudgeons, normally between the ages of ten and fourteen, about the existence of Father Christmas. Scathing references are often made to his physical appearance and his advanced age, and consequential doubts are expressed as to his ability to descend from roofs given his own considerable circumference as compared to the dimensions of most modern chimneys.

However, the one inescapable and irrefutable fact that gives the lie to any assertion that Santa Claus is a myth, is, of course, the millions of mysterious presents to which children all over the world wake up on Christmas day. If you need hard and fast proof that Santa Claus exists you can find it under the Christmas tree in the early morning of 25 December—usually very early indeed. It is impossible to counter such a massive volume of evidence of the existence of this jolly rotund figure with the white beard and the distinctive red and white uniform.

So, in answer to the peevish myth that Santa Claus does not exist, don’t be either fooled or alarmed, it’s fake history.

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