It’s that time of year again. For adults, it is mostly a time of running around buying presents and getting everything ready for the big day like it is the law, while for children and those who are young at heart, it is mostly preparing for the arrival of Old St. Nick himself. Santa Claus is the face of the Christmas season and has remained a prominent, surviving figure connected to the holiday for years. He has a fascinating mythology and has thus left a mark on popular culture.
Most of us know Santa as a jolly old man who delivers toys to us on a single night with his trust reindeer and sleigh, but sometimes he has appeared in more unusual forms or roles. So, for Christmas, we’re taking a look at six of the weirder appearances Father Christmas has made in fiction.
6. Nicholas the Renegade
A rather minor example but its role is quite significant to the anime Sword Art Online. SAO involves 10,000 gamers getting trapped in a virtual reality game where death is very real. The hero Kirito experiences this in the most brutal way possible when a guild he had befriended get killed in a dungeon battle, including Sachi, a girl implied to be his Gwen Stacy. The special Christmas-time boss would allow a dead player to be resurrected, prompting Kirito to track down the boss to gain its reward item.
The boss turns out to be a freaky, zombified version of Santa. Despite being a tough boss, Kirito beats Nicholas, but the reward item turns out to be useless; only capable of reviving the dead ten seconds after they died. The episode ends on a particularly touching note when Kirito receives a delayed message from Sachi, who knew she would likely die and sings “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” to a sobbing Kirito. It’s the most wonderful time of the year…
5. Jack Skellington
Nothing spreads the joy and wonder of Christmas than a cackling skeleton riding in a coffin-shaped sleigh pulled by undead reindeer. The Nightmare Before Christmas is a holiday classic, and Jack Skellington has become one of the most famous incarnations of Santa Claus…sort of. The normal Santa is present in the film, getting kidnapped by the denizens of Halloween Town so Jack can celebrate his own misguided version of Christmas. Of course, Jack means well but his spooky attire and monstrous toys cause mayhem, leading to the military to blow him out of the sky. Jack makes amends by rescuing the real Santa from Oogie Boogie. Despite a bollocking from Santa, both holiday icons make peace, Santa delivering snowfall to Halloween Town.
4. Santa vs. Darkseid
Santa Claus exists in the DC Universe, and while he maintains the normal characteristics, he is a little more otherworldly. On DC Comics Holiday Special, a strip involves Santa trying to invade Apokalips of all places to deliver a special gift to Darkseid – a lump of coal. Santa is capable of infiltrating the planet’s defences to personally deliver the gift to Darkseid, who, frankly deserves it. And it turns out Santa does this every year without fail and the all-powerful Darkseid is helpless against him. This guy can kick the Justice League’s asses but loses to an old man in a red coat. Classic!
3. North St. North
North St. North is a Russian, sword-wielding, former pirate turned toymaker and leader of the Guardians of Childhood. The film Rise of the Guardians, based on a series of novels by William Joyce, depicts Santa, the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Sandman, and later, Jack Frost, as a group of elite heroes who protect the children of the world from evil. North, voiced by Alec Baldwin, maintains the joy and wondrous personality of Santa, really energetic and joyful, but is also a badass swordsman and warrior. His sleigh is a bit more hi-tech than normal, and he can create portals using snowglobes. He even has the naughty and nice lists tattooed on his arms. How cool is that?
The Krampus is not exactly Santa but is in fact an alternate mythological figure connected to certain cultures in Europe. Depicted as a horned, goat-like demon, Krampus will punish children who misbehave, up to the point he will kidnap them. He is the opposite of St. Nicholas, but actually accompanies him in some tales of the mythology, acting as a shadow to the gift-giving.
In American culture, Krampus has appeared often as a darker version of Santa, an outright villain or monster, or a mixture of both. In the 2015 film of the same name, the character is a mixture of elements – appearing as a demon but is more of a right out evil Santa, accompanied by killer toys, a child-eating jack-in-the-box, and psychotic gingerbread men. They don’t forget his demonic elements, linking him to the Underworld where he drags those who lack the Christmas spirit.
1. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Often considered one of the worst films of all time, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is a 1964 film that is just bizarre. In the film, the Martians are a Vulcan-esque society who face destroying their own civilization through their programmed education and lack of individuality. Martian children start watching Earth television, inspiring the Martian commanders to kidnap Santa and have him start distributing toys to their kids.
But this causes a civil war when traditionalists hate Santa’s presence and want him dead. Santa doesn’t really do much conquering, but the title may refer to his influence on the Martians. Trying to say the film is good is just a joke, but it is a cult classic and remains a Christmas favourite despite how utterly bad it is.
What are your favourite incarnations of Santa Claus, be it more traditional or absurd? Leave a comment below or on our Twitter feed!