Is Santa Claus Really Jesus?

Jesus armwrestles Santa
Photo at

Or was Jesus really Santa Claus? OK, perhaps that feels a little clickbaitey, but there’s an interesting degree of overlap between these well-known historical characters who reign over Christmas proceedings in various ways.

I apologize in advance if this blog topic offends anyone. If your initial reaction is “Sacrilege!” you could stop reading now before gathering too much umbrage. I was raised partly devout Catholic and partly doubting Unitarian, so I do speak Christianity. My personal faith–and I do have one–sits somewhere between pagan and atheist. The atheists are too nihilistic for me (c’mon! sunsets! tulips! puppies! there’s something there!) but the pagans are also too organized and just as preachy as the Catholics. I tried reading a book on How to Be a Pagan once, and it demanded I go vegan and stop wearing leather. So much for that.

It’s long been fascinating to watch the tussle between Santa and Jesus that takes place this time of year, or the tussle between gift-getting and altriusm, more to the point. It’s not really an either/or, though, is it? There were real people, there were stories that augmented their life, and those stories keep evolving.

Will the Real One Please Stand Up?

Bearded. Robed. Known for his generosity. Categorized deeds as either meeting standards or as violations. Miscreants on the left and do-gooders on the right. (Or is naughty on the right and nice on the left? ) Painted by the famous, whether accurate or not. Immortalized in song, which then may or may not be included in the “legend.”

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The Mother of Thanksgiving

Sarah Josepha Hale, engraving from Library of Congress

Mary had a turkey browned
From three hours in the oven
Her guests were drooling all the while
For gravy and the stuffin’

Hale’s famous poem, variation by kajmeister

Perhaps Americans would still have invented Thanksgiving without Sarah Josepha Hale. After all, proclamations of Thanksgiving had been declared by the Continental Congresses by Samuel Adams and John Hanson and the like:

It being the indispensable duty of all nations, not only to offer up their supplications to Almighty God, the giver of all good, for His gracious assistance in a time of distress, but also in a solemn and public manner, to give Him praise for His goodness in general, and especially for great and signal interpositions of His Providence in their behalf; therefore, the United States in Congress assembled, taking into their consideration the many instances of Divine goodness to these States in the course of the important conflict, in which they have been so long engaged and so on and so forth etcetera etcetera etcetera…

November 1782, text for the Thanksgiving or National Prayer Day observation (Wikipedia)

That seems a rather dry plateful of harvest to start with, taking some 250 words until it even gets to the Thanksgiving part of the equation. Why, there’s hardly any gravy at all, although there does seem to be quite a bit of lard in it, so maybe the pies were flaky.

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Calling Out for Light in the Darkness (a repost)

Source:, fridays

Happy Diwali! Happy Flashback Saturday! I thought it would be worth reposting what I wrote three years ago about lights in the coming of winter. I noticed many of us are putting up Christmas lights early–fantastic! We need ’em. Trees, too? Sure! Even if no one beyond your pod can visit inside your house–and they should not!– they can drive by and look… or you could take turns doing a Zoom tour of the inside for family and friends. Be creative. Stay safe! Be grateful that you are all still here.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, even though it’s still dim. Here’s my post, from December 20, 2017.

I highlighted a recent sentiment that Christmas lights make everything better. This is no accident. Tomorrow is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. Our body clocks can’t wait for that turning of the tide and, over centuries, our cultures have created one tradition after another to add lights which stave off that darkness. That desire for more light is built into us at the core, even at the cellular levels, within our circadian rhythms.

Fascinatin’ Rhythm

Hall, Rosbash, and Young won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for studying the phenomenon of circadian rhythms. The basic notion of a circadian cycle is one tied to a 24-hour biological clock, a circuit fundamentally tied to the length of a day, split between sun and darkness. Life cycles, for everything from plants to fruit flies to human beings, have adapted to that 24-hour pattern. Scientists have known for years that key processes that regulate sleep, hormone production, metabolism, and behavior are linked to these patterns. The Nobel scientists figured out why.

20171220 circadian1, Nobel Laureates 2017

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Time to Ostracize the Buggers

The Greeks did it with little shards of pottery because papyrus was way too expensive. The Romans did it in groups of hundreds, with their feet. Some groups did it with little black marbles. It wasn’t done in western republics in secret until late in the middle 19th century. What’s the pertinent subject on most Americans minds these days? Voting, of course!

George Bingham painting of country men lining up to vote
The Country Election by George Caleb Bingham (1852), St. Louis Art Museum.

Can We Vote for Banishing People?

The Greeks might vote for a candidate, but they would also vote at times against them as well. They voted to exile people, such as dictators or the dictator’s family, friends, personal lawyers, or unindicted co-conspirators. But even the cheapest paper, i.e. papyrus, was super-rare and expensive, so they didn’t use paper for the ballots. Instead, they would scratch the tyrant’s name on a piece of broken pottery, called an ostraka and turn it in.

broken black pottery piece with Greek lettering
A shard of ostraka, used to ostracize petty tyrants. Photo from wikipedia, slightly modified.

Funny story–there was a respected general and political leader called Aristides, who was nicknamed “the Just” because he was, well, a pretty honorable dude, according to Herodotus. An illiterate citizen came up to Aristides, while they were practicing their ostraka scratching, and said “How do you spell Aristides?” The Honorable Dude said, “Why do you want to write down Aristides?” and the fellow said, “I’m tired of hearing him called ‘the Just.’ I’m sick of these goody-two-shoes! I want someone mean and horrible.” Or something to that effect. Of course, Aristides then wrote down his own name on the ballot.

Writing down the name of someone on the pottery shards was called ostracism. Maybe we could consider this practice using, I dunno, empty water bottles or something?

The Romans used Excel spreadsheets a lot. They divided all eligible people (men, property owners, proper skin color and all that) into 193 centuries, a model based on their armies. The centuries were ranked within by property, with cavalry equities at the top and unarmed, property-less men at the bottom. Then, they were ranked across, by class, and by junior or senior, and each executive officer then took turns to act as officer-for-the-week, although all the actions *of* that officer have to be ratified…. er, no I think maybe that was the Celts. Anyway, the Roman system held rather a lot of infrastructure, but, then, have you seen their buildings and roads? I mean, bits of their aqueducts are still standing!

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Reclaiming the Mocked Suffragette

Ducking stool for suffragettes. Image courtesy of

We have all heard of the girl who asked what was the difference between a Suffragist and a Suffragette, as she pronounced it, and the answer made [by] her [was] that the ‘Suffragist jist wants the vote, while the Suffragette means to get it.’

From 1914 journal Suffragette of the British Women’s Social & Political Union (WSPU). Quoted in

When the women’s suffrage movement grew large and loud at the start of the 20th century, a British journalist mocked the suffragists by changing the ending of their label to the diminutive “ette.” The Brits, under the radicalized Women’s Social & Political Union (WPSU) founded by Emmeline Pankhurst, grabbed the insult and took it for their own. In one WPSU journal, Pankhurst changed the soft “g” to a hard one, emphasizing that they aimed to GET the vote.

Across the pond, American suffragists hated the change and, to this day, there’s some annoyance from historians that the distinction isn’t understood. Depending on which reference site you access, the term is either derogatory or explanatory. For example, the U.S. National Park Service says that the term is viewed as “offensive” and not used, while a British Library service explains that suffragists were “peaceful” while suffragettes were “militant.”

As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote in the United States and revel in triumphant pictures of the sashed marchers, I found it interesting to look at how they’ve been insulted over that same period. The surprising part was how mockery can sometimes be transformed to admiration, using some of the same words or pictures.

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