Christmas with Jesse James

Jesse James, jesse jamesChristmas can be a stressful time. In fact, statistics show that you’re more likely to have a heart attack on Christmas than any other day of the year. Hanging out with family too much can be hazardous to your health.

Some families, of course, are more hazardous than others. Most people don’t have the emotional baggage that Jesse James, Jr., did. He was the son of the famous outlaw but didn’t even know it until his dad was assassinated. He thought his name was Charlie Howard and his father was named Thomas.

Despite living under aliases, the James family couldn’t give Jesse Jr. or his sister Mary a normal upbringing. Junior’s earliest memory was of a gangmember shooting through the front door at a suspected prowler. They also moved a lot and were discouraged from playing with neighborhood children.

Junior was accustomed to his father going around heavily armed at all times. One Christmas while living in his father’s final home, which is now the Jesse James House Museum in St. Joseph, Missouri, Jesse decided to dress up like Santa Claus to surprise his children.

The outlaw came into the house dressed in a costume he had borrowed (not stolen) from a local church. Giving a cheery “ho ho ho” and bearing gifts and candy, he delighted his son and daughter. He asked if they had been good and Junior and Mary said they had. Santa then opened up the bag of goodies and the kids rummaged around inside. Junior felt a gun under the cloth and exclaimed that this wasn’t the real Saint Nick, but his father dressed up as Santa! Their mother then explained that Santa was very busy that year and Dad was helping him out.

So next time a family member embarrasses you at Christmas, at least be grateful they’re not packing heat.

For more stories of Jesse’s hijinks, check out my series: On the Trail of Jesse James.

[Photo courtesy Library of Congress]

Turkey wants Santa’s bones back

A Turkish archaeologist is campaigning to have the bones of St. Nicholas, the model for the legend of Santa Claus, returned to the saint’s hometown in Turkey.

Saint Nicholas was the bishop of the Roman town of Myra, modern Demre in what is now Turkey, in the 4th century. He came from a rich family and was famous for giving money to the poor. People would leave their shoes out for him to put money in. This tradition is still kept in many Christmas celebrations today. In Spain it’s the Three Wise Men who bring presents, but they leave them in shoes. Another story has Saint Nicholas throwing gifts down the chimneys of poor young women so they would have enough dowry to get married.

He was buried in a local church, pictured here, but Italian sailors took his bones away when the Arabs invaded in the 11th century. Now the Turkish Ministry of Culture is considering the archaeologist’s request to put political pressure on Italy.

Do we now have a Turkish Zahi Hawass, fighting to get archaeological treasures returned to their native land? It’s too early to tell, but I bet that archaeologist got some nice presents in his shoes this year.