Saturday’s holiday ad is for Pabst Blue Ribbon, from 1941. “Isn’t Christmas Fun?” A frazzled husband responds. “Could Be! If You’d Only Give Me A “33 to 1″ Chance!” Eventually his wife understands, and he enjoys a beer before turning into a decorating demon, prompting her to suggest he may be getting a whole case of PBRs on Christmas Day.
Friday’s holiday ad is for Blatz, from 1952. According to the ad, while many things have changed in the last century (or more), some things have remained the same, including beer and the use of predatory mistletoe. Who uses such a long ribbon to position it directly above the intended victim’s head? And is it just me, or is the ad showing the backwards slide of women’s rights? The 19th century picture depicts a couple courting, but on somewhat equal footing, sitting side by side on a couch. By contrast, the 20th century (albeit the 1950s) shows the woman standing, serving her beau, as a good woman of that decade was supposed to. I’m not sure I’d call that progress.
While St. Nicholas is best known — in America, at least — for wearing red and white and giving presents to Children each December 25, he’s actually the patron saint for a number of professions, places and afflictions. His feast day is not actually Christmas Day, but almost three weeks earlier on December 6. That’s the reason why the holiday beer Samichlaus is brewed each year on this day. The person we associate with Christmas, Santa Claus, was based on Saint Nicholas, who was originally known (and still is in some places) as Bishop Nicholas of Myra.
Nicholas is the patron saint of brewers, among many others. He’s also the patron saint against imprisonment, against robberies, against robbers. And Nick’s the patron for apothecaries, bakers, barrel makers, boatmen, boot blacks, boys, brewers, brides, captives, children, coopers, dock workers, druggists, fishermen, Greek Catholic Church in America, Greek Catholic Union, grooms, judges, lawsuits lost unjustly, longshoremen, maidens, mariners, merchants, penitent murderers, newlyweds, old maids, parish clerks, paupers, pawnbrokers, perfumeries, perfumers, pharmacists, pilgrims, poor people, prisoners, sailors, scholars, schoolchildren, shoe shiners, spinsters, students, penitent thieves, travellers, University of Paris, unmarried girls, and watermen. Places he’s the patron for are Apulia, Italy; Avolasca, Italy; Bardolino, Italy; Bari, Italy; Cammarata, Sicily, Italy; Cardinale, Italy; Cas Concos, Spain; Creazzo, Italy; Duronia, Italy; Fossalto, Italy; Gagliato, Italy; Greece; La Thuile, Italy; Lecco, Italy; Limerick, Ireland; Liptovský Mikulás, Slovakia; Lorraine; Mazzano Romano, Italy; Mentana, Italy; Miklavž na Dravskem polju, Slovenia; Naples, Italy; Portsmouth, England; Russia; Sassari, Italy; Sicily; Is-Siggiewi, and Malta.
He also has many names around the world, such as Baba Chaghaloo, Father Christmas, Joulupukki, Kanakaloka, Kris Kringle, Pere Noel, Papa Noël, Santa Claus, and Weihnachtsmann (“Christmas Man” or “Nikolaus”), to name just a few.
Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:
Saint Nicholas (March 15, 270 – December 6, 346) is the common name for Nicholas of Myra, a saint and Bishop of Myra (in Lycia, part of modern-day Turkey). Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nicholas the Wonderworker. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and is now commonly identified with Santa Claus. His reputation evolved among the faithful, as was the custom in his time. In 1087, his relics were furtively translated to Bari, in southern Italy; for this reason, he is also known as Nicholas of Bari.
The historical Saint Nicholas is remembered and revered among Catholic and Orthodox Christians. He is also honoured by various Anglican and Lutheran churches. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, and children, and students in Greece, Belgium, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia, the Republic of Macedonia, Slovakia, Serbia and Montenegro. He is also the patron saint of Barranquilla, Bari, Amsterdam, Beit Jala, and Liverpool. In 1809, the New-York Historical Society convened and retroactively named Sancte Claus the patron saint of Nieuw Amsterdam, the Dutch name for New York City. He was also a patron of the Varangian Guard of the Byzantine emperors, who protected his relics in Bari. So beloved is Saint Nicholas by Russians, one commonly heard saying is that “if God dies, at least we’ll still have St. Nicholas.”
The American image of Santa Claus in red and white has more to do with marketing than anything else. I wrote about this in The Santa Hypocrisy a couple of years ago when the Shelton Brothers were in hot water from several states who tried to tell them Santa Claus on a beer label threatened the American way of life and especially the impressionable young kiddies who would all be led down the path to underage drinking and alcoholism because Santa was depicted on a beer label. It was an utterly ridiculous position and they ultimately backed down, but it’s indicative of our puritan hang-ups as a culture and our general paternalism where we believe everyone needs to be protected. And in retrospect I can now see how the “institutionalized demonization of alcohol” creates the conditions for such decisions. Remember the message? “Alcohol is evil. No one can be trusted with it.” When that’s the underlying assumption, you create rules for what can and can’t be displayed on a label that are way beyond reason; standards no other products have to follow because they’re not seen as inherently evil.
But before the 20th century and in other parts of the world, Santa Claus was and still is depicted in many different ways and in various colors. Father Christmas, for example, is often seen wearing a green robe, as in the British Isles he’s more associated with nature and the old Celtic religions. The yule log, Christmas tree, wreaths, mistletoe and many other features we take for granted during the holidays do not have direct Christian origins, but were appropriated from pagan religions in order to make the transition to Christianity easier for the masses to make. Personally, I love a green Santa Claus because it reminds me of hops, and a Santa that stands for hops is one I can get behind.
Few American beer labels show Santa precisely because of our peculiar brand of paternalism and the label laws spawned by our institutionalized demonization of alcohol. Santa’s Private Reserve, from Rogue in Oregon, is one of the few I can think of year after year. Most, not surprisingly, come from abroad, where people take a more reasonable approach to both the holidays and alcohol. There’s the famous Santa’s Butt from Ridgeway Brewing in England, but also Pickled Santa from the Hop Back Brewery and Austria’s Samichlaus is translated as “Santa Claus.”
Why does it seem like we’re the only uptight nation on Earth when it comes to this silly issue. In Hong Kong, a giant Santa Claus is shown with a mug of beer, and no one seems to be that concerned. Try putting something like that up here, and all hell would break loose. We’re the only country complaining that there’s a “War on Christmas,” as stupid a notion as ever there was one, especially in a nation where those who celebrate Christmas constitute the vast majority.
The point is if the church can have a patron saint of brewing, why do religious people object to St. Nicholas being on beer labels? Wouldn’t it make perfect sense for brewers to want to place their patron saint on their beer?
Throughout Europe, Monks not only kept alive the method of brewing beer but improved techniques for making it. A Benedictine nun in Germany, Hildegard von Bingen, is most likely responsible for the introduction of hops in beer. Religion and brewing are intertwined throughout history and, in every place except the United States, that continues to be the case. Why? What about our particular religiosity makes us incapable of seeing that and reconciling it? Why is it seemingly acceptable for Santa Claus to be used to sell everything under the sun … except alcohol. Santa sells cigarettes, soda pop, fast food and pretty much everything else with capitalistic glee yet alcohol is the corrupting influence? That’s going too far somehow? Please.
That Santa Claus only appeals to children is usually the rallying cry of the buffoons who complain about this sort of thing, but a survey of pop culture will reveal that St. Nick is used in all manner of adult contexts. Kris Kringle, like the spirit of Christmas itself, belongs to all of us, not just children. There’s no doubt that I love seeing Christmas through the fresh eyes of my children, their innocence and wonder adds a new dimension to my enjoyment of the season. But I loved the holidays as much before I was a father and after I was an adult, too.
That St. Nicholas appeals to wide array of people should be obvious from the huge number of groups and places that consider him their patron. When so many look to him for comfort in such a varied number of ways, how can anyone say what he is or what he isn’t, where he’s appropriate or where he’s not? They can’t of course, despite neo-prohibitionists and our government’s attempts to the contrary. As the patron saint of brewers, Santa Claus is, and ought to be, perfectly at home on a bottle of beer.
There’s also a wealth of information about the real Santa Claus at the Saint Nicholas Center online.
Time was when today, the Monday before Thanksgiving, was the traditional day on which Anchor’s Our Special Ale — a.k.a. their Christmas Ale — was released each year. Every year since 1975 the brewers at Anchor Brewery have brewed a distinctive and unique Christmas Ale, which is now available from early November to mid-January.
From this year’s press release:
“Every year we’ve changed our Christmas Ale. It hasn’t just been for change’s sake, though,” said Mark Carpenter, Brewmaster at Anchor Brewing Company. “For the past few years we’ve evolved the recipe to perfect a particular style of dark spiced ale and I believe we succeeded. So this year we went on a different path, exploring new possibilities and making larger changes. I’m happy to say we’re very pleased with the results. This year’s ale is aromatic with hints of citrus fruit, spices, and subtle piney hop notes. The flavor has a sarsaparilla-like sweetness with rich caramel maltiness and a pleasantly balanced back-end bitterness. The mouth feel is smooth with a full, velvety texture. The beer pairs well with rich meats, thick saucy dishes, roasted vegetables, and even your aunt’s fruitcake! We’re happy with this year’s Christmas Ale and while I don’t yet know where we’ll take it next year, we’ll continue to keep Anchor fans guessing as we do every year.”
Since ancient times, trees have symbolized the winter solstice when the earth, with its seasons, appears born anew. The tree depicted on the 2014 Christmas Ale is the Giant Sequoia. It was hand-drawn by James Stitt, who has been creating Christmas Ale labels since 1975, to look as a “Big Tree” planted in 1975 might look today.
Anchor Brewing chose the Giant Sequoia for the 40th annual Christmas Ale in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Act. Signed into law by President Lincoln during the Civil War, it granted the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Big Tree Grove to the State of California “for public use, resorts, and recreation.” The first such land grant in American history, it marked the beginning of the California State Parks.
Anchor first began their active support of the California State Parks when they announced in 2012 that proceeds of Anchor California Lager would benefit the California State Parks Foundation. This year’s Christmas Ale continues the celebration of one of the Golden State’s most precious institutions and its natural heritage.
Christmas Ale is a traditional “Wassail” of medieval England. In the olden days, brewers often used delicious blends of natural spices to give their Christmas ale a distinctive character. Similarly brewed, the Anchor Christmas Ale recipe remains a closely guarded secret every year. It’s always brewed using malted barley, fresh whole hops, and a true “top-fermenting” yeast. Its deep, rich color is produced by using a blend of roasted malts, carefully selected to achieve not only the deep color of this ale, but also to provide much of its distinctive malty flavor. The whole-cone hops provide a balanced back-end bitterness and subtle piney hop aroma. This is accompanied with aromas of citrus fruit and herbal spices.
Even though for the last few years, Anchor’s Christmas Ale is released in early November, I continue to observe Anchor Christmas Day on the Monday before Thanksgiving. I know I’m a sentimental old fool, but I liked that they used to wait that long to release it, even though I understand why they had to abandon it. But some things are worth waiting for. If you agree with me, please join me in drinking a glass of this year’s seasonal release tonight. Happy Anchor Christmas Day!
Wednesday’s ad is again for Schlitz, from 1958 (though parts of it are from previous years). Actually, it’s an advertising piece — a pamphlet or brochure — from their wonderful ad campaign, one of my all-time favorites, Schlitzerland. This piece, entitled “Schlitzerland, U.S.A., or how to entertain Schlitzfriends,” gives advice, along with songs, or how to throw various types of parties successfully. This is pages eighteen and nineteen, with the ninth song, “Schlitzingtime,” sung to the tune of “Jingle Bells.” The headline is “How to Schlitzcelebrate holidays, or Schlitzertainment for special occasions.” While it’s clear that this is about Christmas, notice they never mention it, being sensitive to people of all faiths decades before the “War in Christmas” was declared by the wingnuts. And I certainly love a tradition that involves hops and kissing and mistletoe.
Saturday’s ad is also for Budweiser, from 1956. Showing a couple through a frosted window, it’s as though someone had used a towel to clear the middle so we could see the scene. As the man pours a beer for his lady, she’s looking so intently at the glass it’s as if her life somehow depended on a perfect pour.