A good many things go around in the dark besides Santa Claus.
– Herbert Hoover
Life is full of odd paradoxes, things are not always as they seem, and the common folk wisdom is very often at odds with the truth. Take whores, for example; due to many decades of ever-worsening propaganda, the common belief is that we are either anti-social criminals (equal to slavers if we dare to work with other whores) or pathetic victims reduced to such a subhuman state that others must speak, act and think for us. Those who believe the former imagine that as monsters fallen from grace there is no place for us in religion; those who believe the latter could never imagine that we would have a designated patron saint because they refuse to see our work as work. But the truth is that up until the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Church was actually extremely tolerant of harlots, viewing us as a “necessary evil” in the imperfect, sublunary world; we therefore had as much right to a patron saint as anybody. Furthermore, it is very difficult for modern people to understand just how pervasive religion was in the Middle Ages; a look at the Muslim world will give you a rough picture of the role of the Church in Christendom 600 years ago. So everybody had a patron saint, even (repentant) thieves. Interestingly enough, their patron was the same as ours, but lest you imagine that this means prostitutes were viewed as akin to thieves, consider that this busy saint was also in charge of protecting merchants, sailors, archers, students and children. But it is in that last capacity that he is best remembered today, in his modern guise of Santa Claus.
Though long-time readers already know this, newcomers may be surprised. Why is Nicholas the patron saint of whores rather than Mary Magdalene? For the answer to why he is, consult my column for three years ago today; for that to why she isn’t, try July 22nd (which is her feast day, as today is St. Nick’s). But that isn’t the only misconception about the jolly old elf; I debunked some of the more obnoxious ones in last year’s column. Among them is the idea that Santa’s use in advertising somehow makes him unfit as a symbol for this most joyous time of year. But that’s utter hogwash; as we have seen, he’s always managed to play a variety of roles that would give a lesser saint a panic attack, and given that merchants are one of the groups he watches over it could hardly be considered inappropriate for him to appear in advertising.
There is, however, one group which misuses his image terribly; despite the fact that filles de joie are under St. Nick’s special protection, a powerful group dedicated to our utter extermination has the effrontery to use him as a symbol in their promotions. To make things worse, they’re not even selling a product to help the merchants or to give to children; they just put out men dressed in his universally-recognized outfit to beg for donations…at least some of which are used to pay for their hate campaigns. I am speaking, of course, of the Salvation Army, whose bell-ringing ersatz Santas are ubiquitous this time of year. That’s the paradox I spoke of in the first line; using a beloved image to disguise a crusade against a group of people is disgusting enough, but when the target group happens to be one for which the image’s original has a special devotion, it crosses a line into a special kind of iniquity. There is no coal black enough and dirty enough for the Salvation Army’s stocking, so when you are out and about this season please find a more deserving recipient of your charity; one which directly assists any of the Saint’s favored groups (such as students, prostitutes or children) would almost certainly ensure your name ends up on his “nice” list.