Wednesday’s holiday ad is yet another one for Carling Black Label, this time from 1955. It’s a simple ad showing a bottle of Carling Black Label, a full glass of beer and a small yule log with a candle burning on it, with some Christmas balls and grass surrounding it, and a scroll with the following on it. “May Your Christmas be merry, your New Year full of happiness …” and then it’s signed “from all your friends at Carling’s.” It’s also one of those magic bottles common in ads at that time. Even though the bottle is only about one-third empty, the pilsner glass is filled to the brim. So either it’s a ginormous bottle or a tiny glass. It can’t be both, can it? Happy Christmas Eve. May Your Christmas Be Merry.
While not widely known, St. Nicholas, among his many patronages includes brewers. He is a patron saint of brewers. The way we think of St. Nick in America begins with the publication of Twas the Night Before Christmas: A Visit From St, Nicholas by Clement C. Moore in 1823. So with my tongue firmly set in my cheek, I decided to rewrite Moore’s masterpiece, moving his visit from the home to the brewery. Hoppy Christmas. Enjoy. For more detail on how this came about, and about the original poem, see below.
Twas the Beer Before Christmas:
A Brewery Visit From St. Nicholas
‘Twas the beer before Christmas, when down in the brewery
Not a bottle was stirring, not a mouse dared to scurry;
The hoses were hung by the kettle with care
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would drink there;
The bottles, like children, nestled snug in their beds,
While visions of candi sugar fermented their heads;
The brewers, in hoodies, gave just the impression,
They’d all settled down for long winter’s session,
When outside by the tanks there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the brewery to see what was the matter.
Away to the rollup I flew like a flash,
Tore open the lock, the door flew up with a crash.
The moon on the breast of the newly-paved tarmack
Gave the lustre of stout looking velvety black,
When, what to my sobering eyes should appear,
But a miniature delivery wagon, and eight kegs of beer,
With a little old brewmaster, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than fermenting his brewers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
Now, Busch! Now, Rheingold!, now, Pabst and Carling!
On, Schlitz! on, Schmidt! on, Miller and Yuengling!
To the top of the jockey box! To the top of the cask!
Now drink away! drink away! drink away the whole flask!”
As dry hopping that before the wild bittering fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, toast a drink to the sky;
So up to the brewery-top the brewers they flew,
With the wagon full of Beers, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, glasses tinkling, I heard on the roof
The toasting and drinking of each little goof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Out the fermenter St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in red, from his toes to his top,
And his coveralls were soiled with spent grain and hops;
A carton of Beers he had flung on his back,
And his rubber boots squeaked as he opened his pack.
His besotted eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were all rosy, like New Glarus cherry!
His droll little mouth was beseeching our pardon,
And the beard of his chin was as white as Hoegaarden;
The end of a zwickel he held tight in one hand,
While the other held Watermelon Wheat that was canned;
He had a beer belly, that bent two stumpy legs,
That shook when he laughed, like a half-emptied keg.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old brewer,
And I drank when I saw him, for what could be truer;
A wink of his eye as he poured generous heads,
Soon gave me to know he would join us instead;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And emptied the bottles; then sat with a smirk,
And raising his glass, he gave the first toast,
Then each brewer, in turn, drank to his own riposte;
Then he sprang to his wagon, to his brewers gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like a hop torpedo missile.
But I heard his last toast, ere he drove out of here,
“Hoppy Christmas to all, and to all drink good beer.”
In late 2009 — a Saturday night — I read Porter and Alice, my two kids, Twas the Night Before Christmas: A Visit From St, Nicholas by Clement C. Moore. Whenever I read something I know to my children (which happens a lot, kids love repetition) the writer in me edits as I go. I change words as if it was my work, I flatter myself I’m improving it or correcting mistakes. A scatterbrained scheme was hatched as I again read them what’s probably the most famous Christmas poem.
First published in 1823, according to Wikipedia, “it is largely responsible for the conception of Santa Claus from the mid-nineteenth century to today, including his physical appearance, the night of his visit, his mode of transportation, the number and names of his reindeer, and the tradition that he brings toys to children. Prior to the poem, American ideas about St. Nicholas and other Christmastide visitors varied considerably. The poem has influenced ideas about St. Nicholas and Santa Claus beyond the United States to the rest of the Anglosphere and the world.”
As I’ve written about before, St. Nick is also a Patron Saint of Brewers. So with my tongue firmly set in my cheek, I decided to rewrite Moore’s masterpiece, moving his visit from the home to the brewery.
As it happens, there are a lot of different versions of the poem, with incremental changes having been made over the years. I used, for no particular reason, an edition from Trans-Pacific Radio. Enjoy. Hoppy Christmas. You can also compare the two versions side by side, which also includes the brewers names I’ve used in previous years. The plan is to change those each year.
Feel free to share my version of the poem, with credit if you please, plus a link back here is always appreciated.
UPDATE: Georgia’s Sweetwater Brewing also did their own beer-themed version called Sweetwater’s Night Before Christmas. There’s also another beer-themed one I shared last year, Twas the Brewer’s Night Before Christmas. For many more parodies, check out the Canonical List of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas Variations, which contains 849 different variations on the poem.
But pub landlord Steve Bowen may be my new favorite bartender.
Apparently in Great Britain it’s a common occurrence for people who don’t regularly drink in pubs to visit them over the holidays. I suspect it’s much like every Irish-themed pub fills up each St. Patrick’s Day here in America, or is similar to people who attend church only twice a year, on Easter and Christmas. Essentially, such people are not regulars and often are unaware of the proper protocols or etiquette that more seasoned pub-goers follow. Five years ago, I did a similar list about my Top 10 Festival Pet Peeves about the same phenomenon at beer festivals.
Earlier this month, Bowen posted his tongue-in-cheek “Rules” for proper pub behavior over the holidays. It’s hilarious. Perhaps even funnier is how many people missed the point and complained about the list, meaning they’re most likely the people he was talking about, so definitely take a look at the comments, too. Below is his rules for the seasonal drinker. Enjoy.
XMAS AT THE STOKE INN, PLYMOUTH
It’s that festive time of year when decent, honest boozers are plagued by non-drinkers. And not real non-drinkers, not people who don’t ever drink, they’re fine. We’re talking about people who don’t go near a pub for 11 months out of the year, the kind of awful human beings who buy their beer from supermarkets with the weekly shop, people who consume such a laughable quantity of alcohol that they can only be designated as “non-drinkers”.
Whether it’s the Christmas Work’s Do or a Festive Drink With Friends, you are ruining pubs for the rest of us. Everyone hates you. Every actual drinker in the pub hates you and all the serving staff hate you. You’re awful. Here’s a guide on how to not be quite so awful
DO NOT APPROACH THE BAR UNTIL YOU KNOW WHAT YOU WANT
• The bar is an intricate machine full of separate-yet-interconnecting cogs. It is NOT the place to think or choose or decide. The engine only works if everyone knows their place and performs their function. Do you hear that collective groan as you ask the Bartender if they’ve got Cranberry Juice? Or as you turn around to ask Barbara what she wants to drink? That groan is you single-handedly sucking life away from your fellow drinkers. Make a decision first, then go to the bar and order what you’ve selected. Just like ANY OTHER FORM OF COMMERCE!
DON’T START DRINKING AT 4PM
• You’re NOT a drinker. We haven’t seen you all year. You’re an amateur, so don’t start out with a Marathon. You can’t just rock up to the Premier League one day saying “I’m Match Fit, lads!” This is why you’re puking and crying before nine o’clock at night.
YOU ARE IN A ROUND
• I don’t care who you’re with, how many of you there are or how well you know them. You are in a Round with all the people you came in with. That’s how it works. You see those twenty-five loud, burly, drunken Rugby Players on the other side of the pub? They are a pleasure to serve compared to you. They order eight pints of lager, eight pints of Guiness, six pints of bitter and three Jack Daniels, then they pay the bill in one fell swoop. Your group orders ten drinks one-at-a-time and then pays for them all one-at-a-time as the rest of pub creeps closer to Death’s eternal grasp waiting for you to finish, despite the fact nine of you are drinking the same fucking drink and the last person, THE LAST PERSON, wants a Guiness putting on. Every single person waiting to get served wants your group to die in a complicated house fire.
KNOW WHERE YOU ARE
• Look around you. What kind of drinking establishment are you in? Is it a pub or a bar? If there’s 85 lads watching football on the telly, stop trying to be a drunk, flirty attention-whore because it won’t work. If the walls are cluttered with offers of 6 Shots Of Neon Sourz For A Fiver, don’t try asking for that Single Malt whiskey you memorized from Mad Men. Equally, if it’s a pub adorned with wood furnishings and hand-pulls, stop trying to get the Landlord to make that shitty cocktail you saw on Sex And The City
HOT GIRLS GET SERVED FIRST
• Welcome to Western Civilization.
• Okay, the music isn’t great. It’s nothing to write home about. But it’s been specifically selected to offend the least amount of people. It’s background music. If you want anything else, then you want to be at a club or a gig. If, however, you’ve decided to“do the pub a favour” by blaring out a playlist from your iPhone, then you are a twat. A prize, prize twat. Other expletives come to mind. Likewise don’t get offended if the barman politely gives you a pound and rejects all six Abba songs you paid for.
• Newsflash: You are NOT next. You might have been in the bar queue longer than anybody else, but that doesn’t mean you’re next. Do you know why? Because there are no “Official Rules Of Queueing At The Bar.” The Bartender is 100% in charge of who is next. So do not piss them off. Yes, they can see you. You do not need to bang your change on the top of the bar. You do not need to wave your money around in the air, as if you’re the only person in the room with a tenner (unless it’s a Strip Club). You especially do not need to click your fingers like a Parisian Cafe prick or whistle like a Shepherd herding his flock. These tactics will only achieve one outcome: no matter how long you’ve been waiting up until this point, you’ve just moved yourself to the back of the queue.
• If an old bloke sat at the bar gets served before you do, and the Bartender knows him by name and even seems to know what he’s drinking before he orders it, just shut the fuck up. That’s Bob. Bob drinks here all the time. Bob drinks here five times a week, every week. Bob’s custom pays the bills. Bob and the other Regulars keep the pub open eleven months of the year whilst you’re having dinner parties and bulk-buying booze from the supermarket. Yes, they get preferential treatment. Accept it and shut the fuck up.
TIME IS TIME (sometimes)
• Pubs don’t stop serving because they hate you (that’s a lie, sometimes they do) or because it’s funny or because they get bored of selling beer. It’s a legal requirement for them to stop serving at a designated time. Once Time is called, they are legally unable to sell anymore beer. You cannot cajole them into selling more, because it’s a legal requirement. You cannot bribe them into selling more, either with the promise of drinks or money, because it’s a legal requirement. You cannot reason or argue them into selling more, because it’s a legal fucking requirement. “Who’s gonna know? There’s nobody around, I won’t tell anyone.” THAT’S HOW THE HOLOCAUST STARTED!
See you in twelve months, you fucking pricks.
I think the Stoke Inn is my new favorite pub. Happy Holidays.
Tuesday’s holiday ad is another one for Carling Black Label, this time from 1958, also during the “Hey, Mabel” years, but when they transitioning to “People try it … and they like it!” as a tagline. But I especially love the festive beer glass with the Christmas tree painted on it, complete with presents underneath. Happy Christmas Eve Eve.
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.