‘Tis the season: 10 historic examples of Christmas mayhem


For most people, this time of year means loving family get-togethers, gaily-wrapped presents, colorful trees, a feeling of goodwill towards all. For some of us, however, it can mean only one thing: Drunken, criminal Santas! The following are ten cases where “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” was more like the Eve of Destruction.

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1. In the good old days, no Yuletide celebration was complete without the follow-up toxicology report.

In 1889, guests at a London Christmas party were “seized with curious and inexplicable symptoms.” Suspicion fell on the green candies decorating the Christmas tree. They were later found to contain Scheele’s green, an arsenic-based substance that was a popular coloring agent of the era. [“St. Paul Daily Globe,” May 23, 1889]

poison in trees st paul globe 5 23 1889

2. This is what happens when you have your wedding on Christmas Day.

In 1912, John Belder went on a “Christmas drunk” and proceeded to “shoot up” the wedding of his stepdaughter, Elsie Redfern, in order to “satisfy a grudge against his wife.” He chased his spouse out of the house, “wounding her as she ran,” shot another guest, and went in search of the bride and groom, who had, however, prudently gone into hiding. Belder got into a shootout with police, who seriously wounded him before putting him under arrest. The last line of this story is particularly memorable, and beautifully displays that sentimental family touch you like to see at Christmastime: “Miss Redfern was married shortly after the interruption.” [“Day Book,” December 26, 1912]

Drunken shootout, 1912

3. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and he’s got a rap sheet longer than a football field.

In a 1968 preview of the modern Santa Con, nine Santas were jailed for disturbing the peace in Stockholm after they “absorbed too much Christmas cheer at a party.” A spokesman complained that “These people, all dressed in Santa Claus outfits, were rowdy and kept arguing and fighting between themselves even when we locked them up.” [“Tuscon Daily Citizen,” December 13, 1968]

jolly santas arrested tuscon daily citizen 12 13 1968

4. Santa Claus is coming to town, and he’s going to beat the crap out of you.

In Richmond, VA, “Startled children rubbed their eyes…and wailed in bitter grief” upon learning that Santa had been arrested for fighting. As he was walking down the street, someone pulled his whiskers, “and the old man resented it.” Fists began to fly, with St. Nick getting the worst of it, losing most of his hair and all his beard. Two policemen came along and arrested them both. [“Richmond Times-Dispatch,” December 21, 1908]

Fighting Santa 1908

5. Before Santa visits you this year, hide the silverware.

In Paris, Santa was arrested for burglary. In his sack, contrary to the normal procedure, he was hiding a present for himself: a pearl necklace belonging to a marquise. It seems the marquise’s small son gave the necklace to the red-suited visitor, in the hope of ingratiating himself with Santa. (Yes, kids, let this be a lesson to you: Santa is open to bribes.) [“Syracuse Evening Telegram,” December 22, 1922]
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Burgling Santa

6. Kids, all the loot Santa brings you every Christmas is hot merchandise.

In New York, Santa was arrested because “he could not explain how he came to have six cans of chicken, five packages of cigarettes and several pairs of boys’ and girls’ stockings in his possession.” It turned out these goodies came not from the North Pole, but from an unlocked automobile. Yet another Kris Kringle bumped into a policeman as he came out of a store with an armful of toys. Unfortunately for Santa, the store had been closed at the time. He was brought before a grand jury on a charge of burglary. [“Washington Herald,” March 28, 1920, and “Buffalo Courier,” December 22, 1925]

Toy thieving Santa

7. When he’s not robbing us blind, Santa also likes to get wasted on cheap booze and talk to clocks.

A Santa who was collecting holiday donations for the Volunteers of America was hauled into a New York police court on a charge of public intoxication. On his way to work one day, he couldn’t resist stopping at every saloon along the way, with the result that “Santa Claus was found sitting on his chimney, with his white wig in one hand and his white beard in the other, talking to the big clock in the tower of Old Trinity.” [“Syracuse Herald,” December 15, 1903]

Clock talking Santa 1903

8. It could be worse, though. At least those Santas didn’t bring a body count.

In 1903, peace officer A.J. Lockhart was acting as Santa Claus at an Alabama Christmas party. A John Parsons “became disorderly” during the frolic, causing Lockhart to boot him out. After the party, Parsons attacked Lockhart with a knife, leading to Santa pulling out a pistol and shooting him to death. [“Richmond Times-Dispatch,” December 27, 1903]

christmas affray 1903

9. There are times when Santa receives something other than affection and gratitude from little children. They slap him with a subpoena.

In 1940, a nine-year-old boy filed a personal injury suit against Santa Claus. Five years before, a department store Santa stepped on his foot. Ten years later, a St. Louis court awarded four-year-old Gary Lee Roberts $1000 because a store Santa Claus dropped him on his head. The lawsuit declared that the incident “shattered Gary’s faith in Santa Claus.” The unsuccessful defense argument was that little Gary “had been guilty of contributory negligence by not hanging on when Santa let go.” [“Lancashire Evening Post,” October 22, 1940, and “Burnie Advocate,” October 30, 1950.]

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Suing Santa

10. In Santa’s defense, however, not even that liquored-up old reprobate can quite compare with Mr. James Conroy.

Conroy spent the 1893 Christmas season carrying around not flowers or gifts, but a burial certificate. His wife had died on December 14, but he was “too busily engaged enjoying the Christmas festivities” to arrange her funeral. After complaints were made, the police were sent out to interrupt his fun long enough for him to bury his lady. [“Sheffield Telegraph,” December 27, 1893]

Christmas corpse

So, what can I say? If Santa comes down your chimney this year, call in a SWAT team, quick.

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waterhouse undineWhen she’s not on duty as servant to four cats, Undine writes the blogs Strange Company and The World of Edgar Allan Poe. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook, but after reading this post, we don’t think that’s a very good idea.

1 reply
  1. Wordsworth
    Wordsworth says:

    As he was walking down the street, someone pulled his whiskers, “and the old man resented it.” Fists began to fly, with St. Nick getting the worst of it, losing most of his hair and all his beard.

    Now that’s something I’d love to have seen


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