Stephen King, the master of horror and fear, once said that the thing he found most scary was clowns. There is actually a name for fear of clowns: coulrophobia.
If clowns are the most scary, Santa isn’t far behind. This comes within a category known as hagiophobia, the fear of saints and holy things.
To me, it makes good sense. Think about it… little kids being told that there is a bearded old man who is keeping close surveillance on them, putting their names on a list that he checks at the end of the year, and checks not just once but twice. If they have been good, he will sneak into the house and leave gifts under the tree. In some households he is known to sneak into children’s bedrooms and leave the gifts at the foot of the bed. How near to the child has he physically been to do that? Freaky.
As if that’s not enough, look how close the word Santa is to Satan. Like Satan, he wears bright red and, although he is not cloven hoofed himself, his favourite form of transport with the ominous word “sleigh” is drawn by flying, cloven hoofed reindeer.
You kids who grew up in Oz had it easy compared to my brothers and I. We came from Holland, where Santa Claus is known as Sinterklaas, the inspiration for today’s Santa. He too wears red, has a white beard and traditionally arrives in Holland in December by boat from Spain. He then travels on a horse from house to house before Christmas, leaving gifts for children. The little Dutch children leave their shoes beside the chimney filled with straw and a carrot for Sinterklaas’s horse. The next morning when the children awake they find that the straw and carrot are gone, replaced by a present and/or candy. Cute, sure.
But this is where it becomes really creepy.
Sinterklaas has an offsider named Zwarte Piet, meaning Black Pete. He is black with curly hair and red lipstick (I kid you not) and carries a big sack. It’s his job to check which children have been good and which have been bad. The good receive lollies and gifts, the bad get stuffed into the sack and taken away to Spain. Children taken to Spain would be returned the following year if they had been good for that year. A sort of Sinter parole. If the kidnapping of little children isn’t enough, Zwarte Piet traditionally also carried a collection of birch branches for punishing naughty children.
That’s what my parents raised my brothers and I on.
Non of this "so be good for goodness' sake" stuff, we're talking about the Rambo version of Santa.
And King thinks clowns are scary?
People dressing up as Santa to entertain (and scare the bejesus out of) little kids probably goes back hundreds of years. The following photos, however, are from 1930's in Australia from the State Library of NSW archives. They show that creepy Santas are not confined to any one time or place:
(Click on pics to enlarge)
Santa Claus and children at the I.O.O.F. Christmas party, Bexley, 22 Dec 1934
Radio station 2CH's Children's Christmas party, Trocadero, Sydney, 22.12.1936
Norland Nursing Home Christmas tree, 16/12/1939
And a last pic, no Santa, but doesn’t your heart go out to the little boy at front left with his braces tied together…
Methodist Mission's Christmas visit to poor, Woolloomooloo, 25/12/1938
One final item. My father in law, Noel, refined the tradition of leaving out hay and carrots, or milk and cookies, for Santa. Noel convinced his four infant daughters that what Santa really appreciated, and therefore would engender a lot more goodwill for them, was a glass of red wine. Not surprisingly, it was always empty in the morning. He also convinced his daughters that a glass should be left out for the Easter Bunny.