Saint Brewski

When Nicholas of Myra showed up at the inn, he knew there was trouble afoot. The proprietor was acting shifty and Saint Nicholas, man of many, many talents, got him to confess to the murder of three children. We assume he was at least a bit surprised when the owner also admitted to butchering and pickling the children in brine. Maybe more surprised that he was planning on selling them as ham. Because that seems like an unusual thing to do.

Saint Nicholas brought the children back to life and probably unpickled and reassembled them. For this feat, he was (later) awarded the unlikely duo of patronages for children and brewers. Brewers. There’s not a clear reason for this, but one plausible explanation holds that since later paintings depicted Saint Nick standing above a barrel and some naked children, people leapt to brewer and children more naturally than rebuilder and reanimator of pickled ham children.

For an organization whose relationship with alcohol is requiring those who use it to kneel and repent, the Catholic Church sure has a lot of saints dedicated to beer. Saint Augustine is a patron saint of brewing, awarded due to hours of dedicated taste testing. Saint Wenceslas is the patron saint of Czech brewers and bad Christmas songs. Saint Brigid brought beer to the lepers, which is nice because if a group of people in 450 AD Ireland needed a beer it was the lepers. Saints Florian, Benedict, and Boniface are all linked to brewing. But Arnold is the name to have if you want to be a saint associated with beer. Saint Arnold of Metz was the 5th century originator of the motto [paraphrase] “save water, drink beer.” Or more accurately [paraphrase] “if you don’t want to shit yourself to death from typhoid, drink beer and not that green water that smells like a cow’s rectum.” Saint Arnou of Oudenaarde and Saint Arnold of Soissons are both said to have pulled off a “fish and loaves” miracle, but with beer. Saint Nicholas is not only one of many patrons of brewers, he’s fully outclassed by the other canonized booze mascots.

Still, Saint Nicholas’s life has nuggets of 40 proof potential. He was a bit of a brawler, knocking out a heretic called Arius. Facial reconstruction and 3D technology show evidence that his nose had been broken and reset a number of times. So Old Saint Nick evidently saw some havoc. According to patristics professor Michael Foley, Saint Nicholas is the most patronaged saint behind Mary. Considering she had a baby with God that’s not bad company. Although he doesn’t really justify the brewer patronage, his other patronages are sort of alcohol adjacent. He is the patron saint of unmarried people, pawnbrokers, coopers, sailors, and prostitutes. Add the broken nose and fist fighting heretics and you’ve got a Hammered History Saint.

But it’s through his secretive gift giving that the modern world best knows Saint Nicholas, Sinterklaas, Old Saint Nick, or as he is known in coca cola advertisements and by anyone with eyes and a TV, Santa Claus. His patronage of prostitutes is based on an altruistic act in which he secretly dropped bags of gold down the chimney of a local man who was unable to pay the dowries of his three daughters. Had he not given the dowries, the man’s daughters would have been condemned to a life of prostitution. They’d have been Ho Ho Hos. (I’m so sorry).

In countries that don’t have a Santa Claus tradition, Saint Nicholas still plays an odd part in winter seasonal celebration. In the Czech Republic, for example, Saint Nicholas comes by on December 5th and hands out gifts and candies to children. Mikuláš, as he is called in Czech, patrols the streets and interrogates children about their behavior. If they have been good, then one of Mikuláš’ two assistants – an angel – treats them with sweets or potatoes. The bad ones get a scolding from Mikuláš. The really bad ones get Čert.

Čert is the Slavic demon who acts as Mikuláš other assistant on his December 5th rounds. Saint Nicholas may have been a bit wild in his day, but his legacy gets the Slavic demon to do his raucous bidding. Čert is a crazed hairy monster with a long tongue, horns, and sometimes one cloven hoof. He is trouble. If kids are really bad, he kidnaps them and brings them back to his lair in Hell. He sometimes steals big-breasted ladies from remote villages. He is outfitted with a whip. Parents will fortify him with brandy throughout the night, which seems unwise given that he’s in charge of doling out punishment to their kids and has a lair in hell.

Today we drink to celebrate Saint Nicholas, Saint Nicholas Day, Čert, and the phrase ‘Slavic demon.’ Since it’s the Christmas season, we are lenient in our drink options. First, we can honor Saint Nicholas’s undeserved brewery patronage by drinking a beer. Since Saint Nicholas died in 343 AD, any beer you choose will be far superior to whatever he was drinking then (except Rolling Rock). On the other hand, you can drink what Czech parents ply Čert with on December 5th – slivovice. Slivovice is a strong brandy that the Czechs distill from plums and then drink to forget Demi Moore movies. Since they distill brandy from whatever fruit falls in their yards, you might choose pear, apricot, or black cherry brandy and be well on your way. No matter what you drink today, make sure you are nice to a prostitute, hide your kids and your big-breasted friends, and don’t turn kids into ham.

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