All posts by Vago Damitio

Vago Damitio  (@vagodamitio) is the Editor-in-Chief for Vagobond. He jumped ship from a sinking dotcom in 2000 and decided to reclaim his most valuable commodity, time. He bought a VW bus for $100, moved into it and set out on a journey to show the world that it was possible to live life on your own terms. That journey took him from waking up under icy blankets in  the Pacific Northwest to waking up under palm tress in Southeast Asia. Three years later, his first book, Rough Living: Tips and Tales of a Vagabond was published. After diving into the Anthropology of Tourism and Electronic Anthropology at the University of Hawaii (with undeclared minors in film and surf) he hit the road again in 2008. Since that time,he's lived primarily in Morocco and Turkey, married a Moroccan girl he couchsurfed with, and become a proud father. He's been to more than 40 countries, founded a successful online travel magazine (this one!), and still doesn't have a boss. Life is good. You can also find him on Google+ and at Facebook

Santa Claus – Extraordinary World Traveler Vagabond

Santa Claus – He’s Not Who You Think He Is

origin of Santa ClausEarlier this year, before her 1st birthday, my daughter had the opportunity to visit the real home of Santa Claus. No, we didn’t go to the North Pole. Nor did we go to Lapland.  We didn’t visit with the elves or travel through the snow.

We were in Demre, Turkey. If you don’t believe me, you can read a little about the history of Santa on Wikipedia or you can just read on and trust me with the facts.

If anyone ever tells my daughter that Santa is a made up person, I can show her pictures of us visiting where he really lived. He was a real person. A person named Nicholas.

If you are one of those people who says Santa Claus isn’t real – you’re right because he’s long dead, but he was real. He was a real person, so if you are one of those people who say Santa Clause is a fictional or imaginary character – you are wrong.

Demre Santa ClausSanta Clause was born in the town of Patara , Turkey on the Mediterranean Coast. If you visit today you will find (much to the surprise of many) Santa shops, Christmas shops, and everything Santa you can imagine in this mostly Muslim town. At the time he was born, Turkey wasn’t yet a country and so despite being Anatolian, he was Greek. A Byzantine Christian to be precise. For those who don’t know, Istanbul was the capital of Byzantium and called Constantinople in those days.

His parents left him as a wealthy orphan and he used his inheritance to help the poor who weren’t as fortunate as he.  In particular, he was generous with children and traveled the known world distributing gifts and help to the needy.

Facts about SantaIn 325 A.D. He became the Bishop of Myra (Now Demre, Turkey) and was a part of the Council of Nicea who cobbled together the Holy Bible from a vast assortment of documents. He died December 6, 343 A.D. In fact, in many parts of Europe, December 6 is a day to give gifts and exchange presents.

Six Facts You Didn’t Know About Santa (From Natalie Sayin’s Turkish Travel Blog)

 

So, how did he become Santa Clause?

Here’s a story you won’t see in Christmas cartoons…one of the most famous stories of St. Nick’s generosity was when he gave three orphaned girls dowries so they would be able to marry and wouldn’t have to become prostitutes! It was this gift that some say led to the giving of presents on Christmas today!

Santa Claus is buried hereIn the 10th century – Myra was attacked by Italian sailors who carried away all the relics of St. Nicholas to Bari where they still sit today.  He is the patron saint of archers, sailors, and children to pawnbrokers.

After his death, he was attributed with miracles aplenty. He brought boys murdered by a butcher back to life, he kept a ship from sinking with his prayers, and he levitated one sailor from the water to save his life. Hmmm…I believe he can fly!

Clement C. Moore, an American professor of divinity, was the one who turned Saint Nicholas into Santa with his 1823 poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas.” The poem provided the inspiration for the first portrait of Santa Claus, drawn by newspaper cartoonist Thomas Nast in 1870.

After he died, he was made a saint and a tomb was built for him in Demre. The Church of St Nicholas was built over that tomb in the 6th Century. It is a ruin now, but still a very beautiful piece of  Anatolian Byzantine architecture. Many of the mosaics and frescoes have survived.  There is a tomb there, but the bones are in Bari.

Baba Noel Santa Claus StatueSt. Nicholas is the paton saint of Russian Orthodoxy, so it’s not surprising that on peak days (around December 6th) you can find up to 60 buses per day of tourists – mostly from Russia. The government of Turkey issued a Santa Claus stamp in 1955 and have heavily promoted ‘Noel Baba’ as a tourist draw. It’s a pretty good one if you ask me.

 

Top 5 Last Minute European Christmas City Breaks

Barcelona at Christmas ccimage courtesy of Carquinyol on FlicrTaking a European Christmas city break around this time is an absolute must- do. The plethora of light switch-ons, shows, festivals and events means that you’ll never have the same experience twice. Whether you fancy a warm or wintry city break, the next few weeks are the best time to climb aboard a train, plane or sleigh and take a last minute city break to one of these five destinations over the festive season.

 1: Barcelona, Spain

It’s not the first place you think of when conjuring up the image of a white and wintry Christmas, but the Catalonian capital certainly does it in style. Hop on a plane and spend a long weekend wandering around the 300-plus stalls at the Fira de Santa Lucia Market, which dates back to the 1800s. The indoor market is filled with traditional Catalonian treats , mistletoe and handmade gifts. Temperatures in the city can reach 12 degrees, so you might be able to get away with leaving your raincoat at home.

 2: Ljubljana, Slovenia

As one of Europe’s must up-and-coming destinations, Ljubljana is definitely on the ‘must-see’ city break list before it is overrun with tourists. Christmas is the ideal time to visit, as the province is famed for its outstanding Christmas lights display. Colourful lights adorn the compact city centre, covering trees and buildings alike, and run through the Festive Fair which runs from 3 December -1 January. It’s a great place to visit in the week between Christmas and New Year to keep the festive spirit alive for a few more days.

3: Vienna, Austria

Back on much more traditional festive ground, Vienna and its neighbouring cities are synonymous with Christmas markets. Vienna’s largest Christkindlmarkt is open from 17 November until Christmas eve, so you’ve still got time to book a last minute ticket. It sees the huge Rathausplatz transformed into a traditional outdoor market, with almost 200 stalls on offer. Sip a glass of Gluwein as you wander around the wooden stalls and pick up handmade Christmas gifts to bring back home.

4: Saint Helier, Jersey

A beautiful city at the best of times, Saint Helier truly comes alive at Christmas time. The small capital city is transformed by La Fête dé Noué, which celebrates the Norman-French history of the island over Christmas. The side streets are filled with twinkling white lights, and there’s a winter walk that you can take part in to learn more about the culture of the island. Traditional British and French customs are integrated, making this a truly one-off city break.

5: Rovaniemi, Finland

No Christmas city break countdown would be complete without paying homage to the home of Santa Claus. The Santa Claus Village at the Arctic Circle is a once in a lifetime experience, and a city break that everyone in the family will enjoy. You can stay in the beautifully lit-up Village, and meet reindeer, take a husky-led sleigh ride and of course, meet Santa himself. It’s pricey and commercialised, but without doubt makes a last minute Christmassy city break that no child will forget in a hurry.

Pooping in the Christmas Manger – A Catalan Tradition

Pooping in the manger. Okay…this is a Christmas tradition I can get behind. I love this. Below is a link to a site that sells every type of pooping person you can think of from the Pope to Obama. Below that is an explanation for this strange Spanish Christmas custom from Wikipedia.

25. Caganer Papa Benet XVI Artesanía Caganer, Terra i Mar

The Story Behind Pooping in the Manger

A Caganer is a little statue unique to Catalonia, and neighbouring areas with Catalan culture such as Andorra.

In Catalonia, as in most of Italy, South France and Spain, the traditional Christmas decoration is a large model of the city of Bethlehem, similar to American Nativity scenes that encompasses the entire city rather than just the typical manger scene. The Catalans have added an extra character that is not found in the manger scenes of any other culture. In addition to Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the Shepherds and company, Catalans have the character known as the Caganer. This extra little character is often tucked away in some corner of the model, typically nowhere near the manger scene, where he is not easily noticed. There is a good reason for his obscure position in the display, for “caganer” translates from Catalan to English as “defecator”, and that is exactly what this little statue is doing — defecating.

The reasons for placing a man who is in the act of excreting solid waste from his posterior in a scene which is widely considered holy are as follows:

  1. Just tradition.
  2. Scatological humor.
  3. Finding the Caganer is a fun game, especially for children.
  4. The Caganer, by creating feces, is fertilizing the Earth. However, this is probably an a posteriori explanation, and nobody would say they put the Caganer on the Nativity scene for this reason.
  5. The Caganer represents the equality of all people e.g. regardless of status, race, gender everyone defecates.

The exact origin of the Caganer is lost, but the tradition has existed since the 18th century. Originally, the Caganer was portrayed as a Catalan peasant wearing a traditional hat called a barretina — a red stocking hat with a black band.

The Catalans have modified this tradition somewhat since the 1940s. In addition to the traditional caganer design, you can easily find other characters assuming the caganer position, such as nuns, devils, Santa Claus, celebrities, athletes, historical figures, politicians, Spanish royalty, and other famous people past and present, including Pope John Paul II, Salvador Dalí, prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Princess Letizia and even Osama bin Laden.

The practice is tolerated by the local Catholic church. Caganers are easiest to find before Christmas in holiday markets, like the one in front of the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia, which has tables and tables of caganers. Caganers have even been featured in art exhibits.

The caganer is not the only defecating character in the Catalan Christmas tradition—another is the Tió de Nadal, which also makes extensive use of the image of human waste production. Other mentions of feces and defecation are common in Catalan folklore. One popular Catalan phrase before eating says “menja bé, caga fort!” (Eat well, shit strong!).