We're all aware that Santa Claus is based on the very real St. Nicholas of Myra, correct? He was a 5-foot-tall Greek guy with a broken nose, he lived in modern-day Turkey around A.D. 200 to 300 and he was renowned for his generosity, his kindness to children, and generally behaving like the reigning champion of a hobo bare-knuckle boxing league.
"I wish you a knuckle sandwich, and a happy throat-punch."
But time warps all, of course. The Santa Claus we know nowadays is a stout, lily-white guy in a bizarre velvet suit who's loved by children for enslaving hundreds of Legolas' cousins. And truth be told, all St. Nick and Santa Claus have in common these days is the white beard.
#3. St. Nick Was a Rowdy Bastard
Yes, the real Santa was truly a rough-and-tumble son of a bitch. His exploits may have been embellished over the years, but the guy was constantly in and out of jail and tortured. The fact that his face was pretty much a pulverized shank of lamb at his death gives validity to the hardness of his lifestyle, particularly that time he clocked a bishop in the face for saying that Jesus wasn't divine enough.
Soumela Monastery via FrJody.com
Someone in Turkey even made a lovely fresco of this sucker punch.
Not only did he smack the bishop, but he did it in front of Emperor Constantine and so many other people that his holy fisticuffs became the stuff of legends. But bishop-slapping wasn't Nicholas' only claim to fame. Of all his strong opinions, none matched his hatred of paganism.
According to legend, Nick then personally oversaw the violent destruction of the Temple of Artemis. And as luck would have it, there were people who actually lived in the temple! So what happened when the now-homeless priests ran up to Nicholas and begged for mercy? "Go to hell's fire, which has been lit for you by the devil," he replied, his world-weary belly shaking like a bowl full of broken glass.
"Gimme that sword. You decapitate like a goddamn sissy."
#2. St. Nick, Crime Scene Investigator
St. Nick's done more for the wee ones of the world than to simply command his elven hive to build Tonka trucks. According to one fable, Nicholas met an innkeeper who butchered three kids and pickled them during a famine so he could try to pass them off as ham. After God's cosmic prodding led Nicholas to their corpses, he prayed to divinely stitch their little salty dismembered bodies back together.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
"From this day forth, you will be known as 'The Pickle Triplets' and possess all the powers of sodium."
We're not saying that you should build a trio of barfy gherkin golems on Christmas Eve instead of gingerbread men ... actually, fuck it, that's exactly what we're saying. And if you won't do that, at least don some Vlasic-soaked rags and dress up as St. Nick's jaunty archnemesis "The Cannibal Hotelier" to spook the neighborhood carolers with some briny pranks.
"SANTA SAYS 'HO-HO-HO!' I GO 'OH-OH-OH!'"
#1. St. Nick's Bones Are Supposedly All Over the Damn Place
Santa Claus doesn't live in the North Pole. No, he lives all across Europe, in many different countries, a little bit here, a little there. You see, in 1087, Italian sailors stole St. Nicholas' remains from Turkey in a harrowing heist that involved hoodwinking some monks and escaping an angry mob of villagers. His holly-jolly bones were laid to rest in Bari, Italy, where they currently reside, much to the chagrin of Turkish Santaphiles.
To make matters more confusing, an abbey in Ireland claims to possess his body, and a bunch of random body parts said to belong to St. Surly are strewn all over the globe as relics. So if Santa doesn't get you what you want for Christmas this year, try writing to his tooth in Germany the next.
"Dear molar, I want an Xbox."
Reuben Glaser created Little Face Mitt and occasionally writes for the AV Club. He's currently working on a wildly uncelebrated free e-book called "A Chris Christmas Carol." You can find him on Twitter.