While many of us know and love Santa Claus for the many gifts he brings us this time of year, we have yet another gift to thank him for: beer.
That’s right, our very own big jolly elf is considered one of the patron saints of such a wonderful beverage. So, how did this happen?
Long ago, there were three children enjoying a frolic in the European countryside when they stopped at a local shop on their way home, as it had become too dark to travel any further that evening. The shopkeeper welcomed them inside and told them that they could spend the evening there free of charge. However, the shopkeeper instead murdered them, cut them into pieces, and stuffed their bodies into barrels of brine. A very festive Christmas story, huh?
Years go by with no sign of the boys when, seemingly out of nowhere, Nicholas the bishop of Myra (modern day Turkey) decided to pay a visit to this shopkeeper. The story goes that Nicholas noticed something odd about some barrels that the shopkeeper had and decided to open them, upon which he discovered the boys’ bodies. He then told the boys to “rise,” and they did. A miracle! The boys continued to frolic and everyone lived happily ever after.
Years later, Nicholas died and rumors grew of his “miracle,” with many embellishing the story; after all, in those times they did not have Instagram or Facebook to document this, so it was word of mouth (and we all know how that goes).
Demand for Nicholas to be sainted grew to a loud cry from the public, and eventually it came to fruition. Soon Saint Nick became known as the “people’s saint.”
Over time, brewers began to pray to him. Many have said that the barrels contained beer, not brine, but that descriptor is far lost to history. Whatever the reason, for a great deal of time, Saint Nick was regarded as one of the brewers’ patron saints, along with Saint Arnold. As we all know, Saint Nick eventually morphed into our modern day Santa Claus in the 1800s.
The true irony of this tale comes when Santa is banned from being allowed to appear in advertisements for beer. After the image of jolly old St. Nick was solidified in the 1800s, many advertisers were quick to grab onto it, whether they were hawking toys, cigars, or bottles of whiskey.
Prohibition quickly put an end to these practices for some time, but in December 1933, Santa was back at the bar showing Americans the true spirit(s) of the holiday season. One ad read: “Join Mr. Claus (who has a fond regard for the best things in life) in drinking tangy, foamy, and delicious Point Special.”
However, this practice soon died out again. Under pressure from various organizations, many states enacted laws banning the use of Santa in advertising for alcohol. One brewery, Anheuser-Busch, continued its practice of having Santa shill its beer all the way until 1987, when it eventually had to be removed from advertising.
This is where we stand today, and every few years the argument crops up again as to whether or not Santa should be pushing beer to the public. Given the rich history of Saint Nick, the argument should really not be whether or not Santa should be advertising beer, but rather why are we still leaving him milk and cookies when we should really be leaving out a nice cold brew instead?