Category Archives: Offbeat Travel

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.

 

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!).

Best Autumn Festivals Around the World

We usually think of summer as the party season but across the globe, some of the best and wildest festivals happen in the autumn. The fall is a great time to travel – it’s off-season in many places, meaning cheaper flights and less of a crush at the airport.

Wat Phantao during Yi Peng Image by Takeaway@Wikimedia.org, used under Creative Comms licenseAt these autumn festivals you can hang out with Mexican spirits, swill the finest German beer or sail your own (two-inch) candle-lit boat in Thailand in the coming months. So when you do a holiday comparison for your autumn vacation, remember to check for these fantastic events before you start booking your flights…

Kyoto in Japan

September to November in Japan is a riot of color and beauty that’s particularly cherished in areas like Kyoto, where you’ll see the most stunning reds, oranges, golds and green leaves in Japan’s most traditional and fascinating city. Not much compares to seeing men and women dressed in elaborate kimonos and walking under a canopy of rich and vivid autumn leaves colours. Enjoy the sights at the Maple Festival in November, where you will also see Japanese dancing performed on boats on the river and can partake of the elegant tea ceremony.

Dia de los Muertos in Mexico

The ‘Day of the Dead’ is a colorful and macabre festival of celebration held all over Mexico at the end of November. Locals make garlands of marigolds and buy a special bread that attracts the spirits of departed loved ones, and everyone heads to the graveyards after dark to eat, drink tequila and dance to the Mariachi bands. It’s not so much a party as a thoughtful and sometimes exuberant celebration of life. Tourists will find themselves welcome to join in
and learn about this vibrant culture.

Oktoberfest in Munich

If you like beer, and you like festivals, get yourself to Munich! Also known as the Munich Beer Fest, this celebration takes over the city, with little stalls and massive tents lined up along the riverside, serving beers and ales from Germany’s finest breweries, and a wide selection of traditional German foods. There’s even a funfair and rides to go along with the carnival atmosphere.

Loi Krathong in Thailand

This beautiful river festival is a visual treat. Thousands of little floating ornaments made from bread and bark are lit up with candles and sent out onto the river. The little boats, known as krathongs, signify letting go of negative thoughts and hurts, and giving thanks for your blessings. At the same time, the festival of Yi Peng involves releasing thousands of illuminated paper lanterns into the sky. A lovely and completely unforgettable experience.

Festival de Cornuto in Rocca Canterano, Italy

Not a great choice for a honeymoon trip, this November festival is a celebration of infidelity! The ‘Festival of the Horned One’ with its carnival of floats and street theatre is a perfect choice for spurned lovers, cheated-on spouses and betrayed brides. Console your broken heart with some delicious Italian ice-cream and laugh your troubles away.