St. Nick was hardcore. If you don’t believe me just check out this guest blog from Dr. Adam English, author of The Saint Who Would be Claus. For more Christmas party trivia snippets go check out our podcast about the book. Here’s Adam.
The Cluniac monasteries of the 11th century were drab, dreary, somber places. The priors (or heads) of those monasteries had no interest in staying up with the latest fashions and trends. So when a new musical number written by the composer Reginold for church-use first appeared and the Cluniac monks wanted to sing it, the prior would not permit. Reginold’s anthem was not only “catchy” but also edifying in its praise to God and its celebration of Saint Nicholas. Nevertheless, the prior resisted – monks shouldn’t have too much fun, even if that fun is nothing more than singing songs to God.
John the Deacon records what happened next:
“But when the prior lay down on his cot as did the others, lo, the blessed Nicholas appeared visibly before him with a fearful demeanor and upbraided him. Dragging him by the hair, he shoved him to the floor of the dormitory. Beginning with the anthem O pastor aeterne, and with each modulation inflicting blows on the back of the sufferer with switches which he held in his hand, he taught the wayward prior to sing the whole from beginning to end.”
You have to love about this story. Nicholas shows us his untamed, unpredictable side. We like to pigeon-hole him as a kindly old gift-giver, but he could kick some tail when needed.
Last time Tripp and I talked on the podcast, we amused ourselves thinking about the legendary story of Nicholas punching the arch-heretic Arius square in the mouth. That is not the only story in which Nicholas used force. In this story as well, Nicholas is pictured dragging the head of a Cluniac monastery out of bed and forcibly teaching him the new song, keeping time by rapping his head with a stick. That is certainly a different picture of Nicholas.
A direct line can be drawn from the rod Saint Nicholas uses in this story to the whip Santa Claus cracks over his reindeer. Every part of Santa Claus’s outfit and appearance and personality can be traced to earlier traditions and stories. If Santa might use a bull-whip to snap reindeer into action, Nicholas might very well threaten a birch rod on the occasional miscreant. It is a good thing to be on Santa’s “Nice” list but nobody wants to be on St. Nick’s “Naughty”!