Santa Claus might be a right jolly old elf, but he's a jolly old elf with a bizarre past. St. Nicholas. Sinterklaas. Odin. Santa Claus has used all of these pseudonyms at one point or another, and committed acts so bizarre that the fact Santa has an army of indentured elf servants making all his toys seem normal by comparison. After you read these, you'll never look at Santa the same way again.
1) He spoke at a very young age.
According to Benjamin Britten's 1948 St. Nicholas Cantata, when the baby who would become Saint Nicholas, who would be the primary inspiration for Santa Claus, exited his mother's womb in 270 A.D., he immediately yelled "GOD BE GLORIFIED." Which, while certainly amazing, must have also been kind of unnerving for those in the delivery room.
2) His best-known gifts were given to keep girls from becoming prostitutes.
St. Nicholas was certainly extremely giving to those less fortunate, especially children — he had a habit of secretly leaving gold coins in people's shoes, because he never wanted to be thanked. But it may surprise you to learn what his three biggest presents were. A poor man had three daughters that he couldn't marry off, so he was going to sell them into prostitution (like you do). The night before the first girl came of age, Nicholas tossed a bag of gold through the man's window into the house. Boom! The first daughter had a dowry and could be married off. The same thing happened with the second daughter. When the third daughter came of age, the man waited up to see his benefactor, but Nicholas threw the third bag of gold down the chimney instead.
3) His reindeer were born of a terrifying, immortal warhorse.
We all know Santa's sleigh is pulled by eight flying reindeer (and that's a pretty insane aspect of Santa, if you stop and think about it). But these reindeer come from the Germanic conflation of Odin of the Norse gods with the historical St. Nicholas, encouraged by early Christians trying to convert the heathens. The winter solstice was a magic time for the Germanic peoples called Yule, in which Odin led "The Wild Hunt": Kids would leave out food for Odin's flying, eight-legged horse Sleipnir, and Odin would put candy and treats in place of the food. After that, Saint Nicholas was supposed to have had a flying horse when he delivered gifts, and at some point the eight legs of Sleipnir inspired Santa's eight flying reindeer, which were first mentioned in Clement Moore's 1822 poem A Visit From Saint Nicholas — better known as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."
4) He was a staunch opponent of cannibalism.
One of the many miracle stories that St. Nicholas has accumulated is the time when a supremely fucked up butcher lured three little kids into his shop, killed them, and then tried to sell their meat as ham. St. Nicholas, who happened to be wandering by, immediately saw that was not ham, and resurrected the three children, who probably became vegetarians. According to some versions of the legend, the boys were also pickled, so that's fun.
5) Before he set up shop in the North Pole, he worked out of Spain.
According to the legends of Belgium and the Netherlands, St. Nicholas — generally referred to as Sinterklaas — comes from Spain by, uh, steam boat to give gifts to children. This is the version of Santa that first started keeping a list of children who've been naughty or nice. Nowadays, Sinterklaas and Santa Claus are two different entities to the kids of these nations, and Sinterklass gives them presents while Santa Claus does jack shit.
6) He's been a shill for Coca-Cola all along.
The only reason Santa wears red and white because the Coca-Cola company tells him to. Prior to 1931, Santa dressed in any color he linked — blue, green, brown, mauve, whatever. In 1931, though, Coca-Cola issued a massive ad campaign that featured Santa in Coke's red and white colors, and the damn thing was so prevalent that it effectively locked Santa's fashion down from that point on.
7) He was bigger than Jesus.
During a famine in 311-312 CE, a ship full of wheat docked in the port of Myra, headed for the Emperor in Constantinople. St. Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra, asked if the sailors wouldn't mind giving him some wheat for the poor, but the sailors refused, because the Emperor had been promised a certain weight of wheat so they couldn't give any away. Nicholas told them whatever they gave him, the sailors would suffer no losses. And indeed, when they arrived in Constantinople, the weight was somehow the same — even though Nicholas took enough wheat to feed the entire city for two full years. What did Jesus do, feed a crowd for a day? Pffft.
8) His job used to be performed by a goat.
Before the whole St. Nicholas/Odin/Santa Claus myth made its way over, the Scandinavian countries of the world were already dealing with a magical being called the Yule Goat, who spent its time wandering around making sure families had completed their Yule celebration preparations, and demanding gifts. Eventually, thanks to the legends of winter gift-givers around Europe, the Yule Goat started bringing presents in the 19th century, only to be later laid off around 1900 and replaced by Santa Claus.
9) He doesn't just like milk and cookies.
Things other countries leave out for Santa (or his non-union equivalent), according to Wikipedia:
in Britain and Australia, he is sometimes given sherry or beer, and mince pies instead. In Sweden and Norway, children leave rice porridge. In Ireland it is popular to give him Guinness or milk, along with Christmas pudding or mince pies.
If I were Santa, the United Kingdom and Australia would get all the presents.
10) He may have castrated his reindeer.
The names of Santa's reindeer are all male. But male reindeer shed their antlers in the winter, and Santa's reindeer are never pictured antler-less when they're making their Christmas rounds. So either they're actually female reindeer with male names and Santa has some gender issues, or — or — they are male reindeer who have been castrated, which prevents them from losing their antlers, and Santa has some other deeply concerning issues.
11) His bones leak miracle juice.
St. Nicholas died in 343 A.D., and was buried in Myra, where he had been bishop. This didn't stop him from helping people, though: Legend has that a clear, watery liquid would seep out of his bones, and it had miraculous powers. Bone juice! In the 11th century, sailors from Bari took all of Nicholas' intact bones according to a vision they had where St. Nicholas, "Boy, I sure wish someone would take a portion of my bones to Bari for some reason." (They left about half his skeleton, mostly fragments, which eventually ended up in a shrine in Venice.) However, that didn't stop St. Nicholas; when the bones were entombed at Bari, a clear liquid oozed from the tomb itself, which people believed and believe is the same holy bone juice. Some scientists like to point out that Bari is a seaside town and the tomb is below sea level, so there might be a few slightly more scientific explanations for the liquid, but whatever.