'Tis the Season of Myths
First off, the 2012 Winter Solstice occurred at 6:12 AM EST, it's the first day of Winter, the shortest day of the year, ...and it coincides with the end of the current phase of the Mayan Long Count calendar, which some have claimed will cause the end of the world. It's silly, of course, as specified calendar 'cycles' or periods may come to an end, but calendars are generally 'officially' accepted things and only “end” when a government, religious body, or scientific consensus demands it. By and bye, a day, week, month, or year ends and another ...begins. The modern myth of a Mayan Doomsday is traced to two 1975 books: Mexico Mystique: The Coming Sixth World of Consciousness by Frank Waters (Chicago: Sage/Swallow Press) and The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens, and the I Ching by Dennis J. McKenna and Terence K. McKenna (New York: Seabury Press). Waters misread the literature and got the date and significance wrong (he thought the “end” would occur on December 24, 2011) and the McKenna brothers got the date correct, but also got the significance wrong (yeah, probably because they were high...). Besides, neither the world or the Mayan Long Count calendar is in trouble, as only Baktun 13 will end and tomorrow will bring the beginning of Baktun 14! It takes twenty baktun to equal a piktun (October 13, 4772), and I have no current need to know what twenty piktun will equal... I think we're good for now and that's one sort-of seasonal myth out of the way.
Secondly, as Hanukkah ended last Sunday (and I don't have to explain why it only seemed like a small amount of oil lasted eight days), there's a few Christmas-related myths I should clear up. Those who cherish the holiday of Christmas all too often speak of Santa Claus as that ...fat and jolly old elf, when that's categorically untrue. Okay, I'm sure Dan Brown will get around to this one day in a holiday conspiracy novel, but only a couple of Santas have been overweight and neither was an elf (though there were rumors about Claus III). The Sinterklaas gift-giving tradition predates the birth of Jesus (explained as anticipatory benevolence), continued for the first few centuries of the Christian or Common Era as a strictly voluntary and informally recognized effort, until the choice of Bishop Nicholas of Myra (St. Nick I, called The Great Bringer and The Wonderworker). Saint Nick founded the Holy Order of the Helping Ones as a fraternity of gift-givers to honor the memory of those who gave gifts to and helped dear, sweet Baby Jesus. And, as Jesus grew up to be a wandering Cynic philosopher who drank wine and hung out with fallen women and lepers, and other than a few impromptu gigs, couldn't get many people to hear his egalitarian message of compassion, St. Nick instituted the 'Naughty or Nice' clause. Good and deserving children and adults get gifts, and those who weren't good and aren't deserving don't (later amendments allow for rocks or coal). Fr. Klaus Jólnir (St. Claus I, called The Great Claus and The Toymaker) was the first to accept help from the faerie-folk and championed their right to join the Holy Order of the Helping Ones. Fr. Kris Kringle (St. Claus VII, called The Merry One), under persecution from Martin Luther and the new Protestant movement, moved the Order to the North Pole with the help of devout reindeer. Even after the Protestants accepted Weihnachtsmann and Father Christmas, the Santas stayed at the top of the world (though word has it that because of Global Warming the Order is considering a re-location). Fr. Tom Tenisse (St. Nick XVII, called The Red Hat) was the only Santa to use goats, as for many years the reindeer were mysteriously sick and lethargic, and unable to assist in the gift-giving. It turned out the reindeer needed paid vacations, something about the sun, so every summer all the reindeer go off to the Tundra for reindeer games.
Another Christmas-related myth or, more properly, misconception, is that when a Santa calls out “Ho-Ho-Ho,” he's being jolly, jolly-loud, and has an odd chuckle. Each Santa laughs differently and there's been some who just grinned a lot. The Santa Summoning originated with St. Nick I as a formal announcement of convening the Order, with the first “Ho-” as “Hear,” and the second and third “Ho-Ho” as the pronounced acronym for the Holy Order of the Helping Ones. Variations of “Yo, Ho-Ho's, we're doing this now!” are not uncommon. The Helpers on duty answer the summons with due diligence and really good speed. While all fraternal members help and serve the Order, elite Helpers form specific groups best suited for the fastest, easiest (and funnest) way in and out for a Santa. Some units are still remembered for their unique solutions to safety concerns, such as the garish Krampus ("The Clawed Ones," var. "Grampus") who scared away the townsfolk by using audio intimidation, i.e., shaking rusty chains and ringing bells. Perhaps the most notorious of the elite Helpers were the Black Petes (“Zwarte Pieten”), who covered their faces with black make-up and wore brightly colored clothing. The Black Petes encouraged ribaldry as a distraction and would steal many of the townsfolk's shoes. However, to their credit, when the shoes were sorted and reclaimed, the townsfolk would find a coin or two in each shoe. To this day, and hopefully for many more to come, the Helpers anxiously await the summons, “Ho-Ho-Ho.”
Now, as to this confusion about Rudolph, the Red-Nosed reindeer... Contrary to recent reports of a drinking problem, Rudolph's nose owed its unique hue to a diet high in Amanita Muscaria, the so-called Fly Agaric magical mushroom. The red-capped mushrooms with white spots have long been associated with faerie (gnomes, in particular) and Rudolph was the first reindeer to appreciate the anti-gravity effects they confer after ingestion. He founded a flight school at the North Pole to teach other reindeer the flying magic and the memory of his devout service will be preserved in song and tale forever. For the record, Rudolph was known to have a mug of beer or a glass of wine at special occasions, but he usually avoided the hard stuff. Rudy was into 'shrooms and those who celebrate Christmas will be forever in his debt.
Okay, one last Christmas-related myth to debunk... The “Don't forget to leave a glass of milk and a plate of cookies for Santa” tradition was initiated and promoted over a century ago by “Santa Louie,” that is, Fr. Louis Noel (St. Claus XXII, called The Sweet One). Since then, the NPPR (North Pole Public Relations department) has tried to encourage folks to vary what they leave out for Santa on Christmas Eve and have offered suggestions ranging from a small glass of sherry or schnapps to a slice of pizza or a small sandwich. Still, the milk and cookies tradition continues... Old habits (and myths) are hard to break.