Pirates, their history and lore are fascinating and have been very much in the public eye since the Pirates of the Caribbean movie trilogy several years ago. Everyone loves a pirate – but why? Because he represents freedom, an escape from responsibility, adventure, a whiff of sea air and a fair ration of debauchery. Pirates were (and are) seen as Robin Hoods of the sea; but how much they gave to the needy is debatable, unless they owned a rum shop or brothel.
Attacking and plundering Spanish galleons whose cargo was treasure extracted from mines where local inhabitants were enslaved and made to dig for the gold, silver and emeralds did not even touch the conscience of early pirates. Stealing from thieves seemed justifiable and many pirate crews included escaped slaves. Similarly a pirate ship that attacked a foreign flagged vessel at war with the pirate captain’s nationality was fair game. “A merry life and a short one,” was the creed of many a buccaneer. After all, pirates were usually sailors who had been laid off between wars with nothing to do and nowhere to do it. ‘The devil makes work …’ as they say.
As we approach the holiday season and Christmas we look forward to imbibing a glass or three. We look forward to a gathering of friends and relatives and sharing the bounties of life while receiving and giving gifts and generally having a joyous time. The enduring symbol of Christmas is, of course, Santa Claus and unbeknownst to many, Santa has connections to the pirates of yore. Let’s take a look.
Santa (St Nick) was the patron saint of sailors. Today he still has a willing crew who labor all year long at the North Pole making toys and gifts, which he loads onto his ship (a sleigh), whence he cruises around the world dropping off wonderful surprises to children at Christmas. He has a habit of saying ‘Ho ho ho.’ Ever wonder where the sailors’ mantra ‘Yo ho ho’ came from? He has a long piratical white beard, not surprising since he’s over 1700 years old. Hell, even Blackbeard’s hirsute visage might have turned white by then.
Visitors to the islands often are surprised that we celebrate Christmas with Santa. Their belief is that Santa belongs to the high latitudes – not so. Santa loves the tropics where he can relax on a sandy beach under a warm sun and yarn with his many admirers. Santa does not deny himself the pleasures of life either; just look at the size of his belly and his red nose. Also, rumor has it that Mrs Claus is a Dolly Parton look-a-like.
Pirates would pillage and plunder and pillage some more. Then they would repair to a relatively safe haven like Port Royal in Jamaica and enjoy several weeks of wild revelry before setting out on another opportunistic voyage. Santa’s a bit like that – he spends a couple of months in the tropics and then disappears into the ozone – to prepare for next season.
By the way, some children like to leave Santa a glass of milk and some cookies after he has filled their stockings with presents, as a thank you. Now he says he has developed lactose intolerance and would prefer a glass of rum and a mince pie. Yo ho ho!
Julian Putley is the author of ‘The Drinking Man’s Guide to the BVI’, ‘Sunfun Calypso’, and ‘Sunfun Gospel’.