What is the weirdest Christmas story you have ever come across?
Below is a contender that was told to me a few years ago. Since today is the day, then let’s kick back, relax, and simply have a bit of fun.
Side Note: Yes, I’m not religious, and yes, today is supposedly a religious day. But the truth is that it has far more to do with it being an event that marks the winter solstice than any specific variation of belief. As I wrote last year, today can be whatever you want it to be. You don’t need to believe anything at all. It is most certainly not the exclusive preserve of Christianity. Just as that belief system jumped in and claimed it, so too can you now do exactly the same.
Our Story: Christmas In Japan
In Japan religion for many is akin to picking the nice stuff from different beliefs and embracing it all. With that thought in mind, it should come as no surprise to learn that even with Shinto and Buddhism being the two major religions, and only 2% of the population being Christian, Christmas plays a role. For the last few decades it picked up and became a time to spread happiness, exchange gifts and cards, and is not religious.
Our saga dates back to the early days of Christmas in Japan. It concerns one of the biggest department stores located in the Ginza district of Tokyo. Back in the 1960s they made a decision to make a big splash by putting on their very first ever Christmas display. The chief window dresser was summoned and given instructions. He listened carefully, politely bowed, saying “はいゼネラルマネージャ”, then proceeded with arrangements.
The one small flaw here is that he apparently knew nothing at all about Christmas. Since it was all new he had no idea what was required, so he reached out to some friends for guidance. They explained it all. He listened to the story of Jesus being born, then teaching, and how he eventually died on a cross. He was also told about Santa Claus as a mythical figure who distributes gifts. With all this new knowledge he carefully drew up a plan. Hidden under covers the new Christmas display took shape.
When the day came for the reveal, the department store decided that maximum publicity was best to get the buying public into it all. They invited the press and as many VIPs as they could muster to attend. This even included persuading the US Ambassador to do the official unveiling.
One the big day, after the usual round of speeches, the US Ambassador, dutifully pulled the cord and down came the covers to reveal a truly spectacular sight. The poor guy was left utterly lost for words.
The sight that created him was all tinsel and glitter, with lots of parcels and decorated trees. There in the middle positioned in the most prominent position was Santa Claus … nailed to a cross.
Did Santa Cross really happen?
Well yes, the skeptical bit now.
So did this actually happen, was this a real event?
If you check out Snopes then you will discover that it is a well known urban legend.
Some might indeed assure you that they know a friend that has a friend who actually saw it, but actual evidence is lacking. As explained by snopes …
…No one to our knowledge has produced evidence documenting that such a Christmas display was ever used commercially in Japan (other than as a knowing joke), such as a photograph of the scene or a contemporaneous news account that recorded its date and location….
…the mixing of Christian crucifixion iconography and Santa Claus is an unlikely pairing, even to non-Christians. Nativity scenes, not crucifixes, are the religious displays featured at Christmastime, and anyone with the least bit of thoughtfulness would have to wonder why a smiling, happy, jolly figure would be depicted hanging from boards with nails driven through his hands and feet. Santa Claus in a creche might be a plausible mistake (there are claims that figures such as the Seven Dwarfs have been spotted standing in for the Three Wise Men in various parts of the world), but a crucified Santa challenges credulity. As parody it’s believable; as an honest mistake we find it implausible…
Santa Cross Images do pop up
The depiction of Santa nailed to a cross has been seen, but not as part of a cultural misunderstanding. Instead it is deployed very consciously.
In 2005, Japanese artist Yoshio Itagaki created the above display titled “Santa Cross”. He created this as part of a series looking into urban legends, specifically for their propensity to reflect “uncensored reflection of our desires, fears, expectations or curiosity“.
There the artist explains his series as follows …
This series deals with fables or what is now commonly referred as urban legends. I am particularly intrigued by the fact that a legend is an uncensored reflection of our desires, fears, expectations or curiosity. Like the anonymity of an Internet message board, that of urban legend reveals people’s true thoughts about sensitive topics including sex, death, religion and politically incorrect matters.
A legend tends to be altered every time a person tells it to another, as in the game of “pass along.” A legend always allows a storyteller to put his or her feelings and opinions into it. Regardless of whether a story is based on a real event or is fiction, a tale grows into a legend that reflects our voices. I aim to depict and explore our fascination with these urban legends.
Reality often is truly bizarre
We don’t need to make stuff up. Cultural blending can by itself yield some truly strange and unfamiliar results. As explained by Snopes …
The co-optation of familiar Christmas figures, (both secular and religious) in the service of mass merchandising has also produced some rather curious blendings (real and imagined): Colonel Sanders dressed in a Santa suit (as KFC tried strenuously to promote fried chicken as the “traditional” Christmas meal), nuns singing advertising jingles to the tune of Christmas carols, Christmas cards featuring a ghoulish Santa in a graveyard accompanied by the Virgin Mary on broomstick, elves plastered on sake, and a Christmas revue featuring “stripping nuns and three lecherous Wise Men.” And sometimes they just don’t get it at all, such as when a Japanese TV station reportedly ran the movie Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, a disturbing film about English soldiers in a Japanese POW camp, as its festive holiday offering.
Even our familiar image of Jesus nailed to a cross is itself a truly weird one. We don’t see how truly bizarre it really is because we are familiar with it. Comedian Lenny Bruce nailed it (yes, pun intended) with this quip …
“If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses.”