Mark Twain Disses Santa Claus

In Chapter 31 of his travel piece A Tramp Abroad, Mark Twain wonders (in typical cynical fashion) why dear ole Saint Nick, who abandoned his kids, should deserve a loving reputation:

Presently we passed the place where a man of better odor was born. This was the children’s friend, Santa Claus, or St. Nicholas. There are some unaccountable reputations in the world. This saint’s is an instance. He has ranked for ages as the peculiar friend of children, yet it appears he was not much of a friend to his own. He had ten of them, and when fifty years old he left them, and sought out as dismal a refuge from the world as possible, and became a hermit in order that he might reflect upon pious themes without being disturbed by the joyous and other noises from the nursery, doubtless.

Judging by Pilate and St. Nicholas, there exists no rule for the construction of hermits; they seem made out of all kinds of material. But Pilate attended to the matter of expiating his sin while he was alive, whereas St. Nicholas will probably have to go on climbing down sooty chimneys, Christmas eve, forever, and conferring kindness on other people’s children, to make up for deserting his own. His bones are kept in a church in a village (Sachseln) which we visited, and are naturally held in great reverence. His portrait is common in the farmhouses of the region, but is believed by many to be but an indifferent likeness. During his hermit life, according to legend, he partook of the bread and wine of the communion once a month, but all the rest of the month he fasted.