The pimp cane speaks for itself.
Before you even recover from your turkey and familial guilt coma, the jolly sights and sounds of the holidays begin bombarding your Christmas cortex until you're ready to keel over from cheer poisoning. But are all of our holiday traditions really that wholesome? Sometimes, when you push apart the branches of the Christmas tree, you find a rabid badger inside waiting to take your head off.
Every Christmas, we hang stockings in front of our fireplaces, radiators, or dumpster fires so that Santa can stuff them full of presents. As far as Christmas traditions go, this is one of the stranger ones. The holiday already has a designated present depository: the bottom of the Christmas tree, which has more space, thus facilitating bigger gifts. So why stuff gifts into old socks? Well, according to legend, in the 4th century, there was a poor man bemoaning the fact that he couldn't afford a dowry for his three daughters, and thus no one would want to marry them.
Today, the three girls could have just gotten themselves a bunch of cats and gone on with their lives, but back then, it meant that they would have to get the only job available to unwed women at the time: prostitution. This sad state of affairs deeply moved St. Nicholas, a Greek bishop and the inspiration for Santa Claus, who heard about the family's plight.
Nicholas came to the man's house in the middle of the night with three pouches of gold, and looked through the window to see three pairs of stockings drying in front of the hearth. Unable to go through the locked door, he slid down the chimney and planted the gold in each whore-to-be's stocking. The next morning, the girls awoke to find that they didn't have to change their names to the 4th-century version of Trixxxie. This soon led to the custom of leaving out stockings for St. Nicholas to fill with gifts. And that's why Santa Claus yells "ho, ho, ho!"
Probably. Some things we have to assume.
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"Good King Wenceslas" is a Christmas carol about a king seeing a beggar gathering firewood out in the snow. Together with his young page, the king then ventures out into the cold to invite the poor soul to join him inside his warm castle in an act of Christian charity. Saint Wenceslas was a real person, the son of the Duke of Bohemia (today, the Czech Republic), and enjoyed the easy life during the early 10th century. That is, until his father suddenly died in battle.
Wenceslas's pagan-loving mother Dragomir/Drahomira quickly took over as regent, and decided that she could get used to this whole "ruling" thing. What she could do without, though, was this Christianity fad that was sweeping Europe, which caused a rift between her and Wenceslas's Christian grandmother Ludmilla, who prodded her grandson to take over Bohemia and rule in the name of Christ. Dragomir's response was to send a gift of strangle-happy assassins to her mother-in-law's castle.
The horrific murder instead rallied people behind Wenceslas and his controversial Christian platform of "not strangling old women," allowing him to take over Bohemia. Years later, Wenceslas was invited to a feast by his younger brother Boleslaw. He accepted the invitation despite being tipped off that Boleslaw was planning to kill him, because Wenceslas believed that his own brother wouldn't really do that to him. Wenceslas ended up stabbed and dismembered in front of a church, all because he stupidly assumed that, deep down, everyone was as noble as he was. Although honestly, with names like "Dragomir" and "Boneslaw," he really should've seen it coming.
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Caroling wasn't always blander than a bread sandwich. Before the 19th century, Christmas was seen as a time when regular social order could go eat a dick. As part of this annual Bizarro World mentality, people would go door to door making noise, drinking, and playing instruments with the expectation of being invited inside for food or booze. The carolers would also cross-dress (or dress up as animals) and then fuck in front of people's houses, because it's not Christmas unless you're boning a drunken tiger in the snow.
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In a sense, it was like trick-or-treating, if the "trick" was a helping of horrific violence. Accounts exist of proto-carolers burglarizing homes and destroying livelihoods simply because they didn't have enough booze or money to go around. Even some of the songs sung around that time explicitly threatened home occupants, saying that if they failed to provide the goods, they could expect a curb-stomping by belligerent show-tune-singing furries.
Everyone knows the story of Rudolph, the mutant reindeer whose bioluminescent red nose made him a social pariah until Santa Claus turned him into his high-beams, teaching kids everywhere that if they don't want to be bullied, they first need to be useful.
The origin of Rudolph is as depressingly cynical as its underlying message. During the 1930s, the now-defunct Chicago department chain Montgomery Ward used to give away free books to children around Christmas. But in 1939, they decided to cheap out and make their own book instead of buying them from publishers.
The store's ad man, Robert L. May, was saddled with the task, and eventually came up with the first draft of the Rudolph story. He drew from his own experiences both as a frail, frequently bullied child, and as an unfulfilled adult who never felt that he was living up to his potential. Shortly after that, May's wife died of cancer.
May threw himself into his work, and the result was a bestselling children's book. Montgomery Ward ended up printing two million copies of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, for which May was paid a nice round sum of zero dollars (hey, you can't get rounder than a zero). This proved a problem, as it meant that he had no way to pay off his dead wife's towering hospital bills. So the CEO of the department store decided to give him the rights to Rudolph. Some say it was because he didn't see much potential for the character, but we say: Shut up, Grinch, and let us retain some faith in humanity.
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A Charlie Brown Christmas has been an annual holiday ratings juggernaut for 50 years running, kept alive all this time by the necromantic power of Baby Boomer nostalgia. Perhaps its best-known scene is Linus's recitation of the Biblical Nativity near the end, its message of anti-materialism standing in stark contrast to the hollow greed and spectacle of the holidays that drives Charlie Brown into full-blown neurosis.
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However, in an ironic twist, it was predatory capitalism which gave birth to A Charlie Brown Christmas in the first place. After seeing the Peanuts gang on the cover of TIME magazine, Coca-Cola approached Charles Schulz in 1965 to commission a CBS Christmas special that would prominently feature Coke product placement within the Peanuts universe itself.
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The original airing of the program reportedly featured conspicuous Coke cans everywhere, because Snoopy just couldn't get enough of that real cocaine flavor. However, after years of ratings success and changing attitudes toward product placement, CBS quietly edited out any evidence that A Charlie Brown Christmas was originally commissioned as a Coke commercial. Instead, they simply started cutting chunks of the program out to make room for more commercial breaks, most likely in an attempt to create a perpetual energy source from poor Charles Schulz spinning in his grave.
Santa Claus did not spring fully-formed from the hopeful minds of children. In fact, he was invented by rich New Yorkers who wanted to stop Americans from drinking around the holidays. As we mentioned earlier, Christmas used to be a rowdy bitch of a holiday when drunken wretches roamed the streets harassing rich people. Property damage was widespread, morality was drowned in gallons of wine, and violent hijinks ruled supreme. A truly old-fashioned Christmas looked less like Martha Stewart Living and more like a PG version of The Purge.
By the early 1800s in America, however, the rich elite started to think of ways to ruin the one night of mindless fun poor people got per year.
In New York City, a group of wealthy Dutch-Americans formed the "Saint Nicholas Society," and conspired to make Christmas safe for the rich. With the help of writers like Washington Irving and Clement Clarke Moore, the Society began "domesticating" the holiday by focusing it upon children. First, they brought over the Dutch story of Sinterklaas, a folkloric figure based on Saint Nicholas whose present-giving, anti-pimping platform made him the perfect symbol for family-friendly wholesomeness.
Thanks to illustrations and poems published by the Society, Christmas became less of a cold, drunken orgy and more of a child's second birthday party.
We never thought of ourselves as traditionalists before, but this holiday season, maybe we'll give it a shot ...
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