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Home --> Holidays --> Christmas --> Santa Claustrophobia

Santa Claustrophobia

Legend:   A man attempts to surprise his family by dressing up as Santa Claus and entering the house by sliding down the chimney. He gets stuck, dies, and is discovered by his family after they light a fire in the fireplace.

Example:   [Brunvand, 1993]

A young family cannot be together for Christmas because the father has to be out of town, leaving mom and children alone for the holiday.

But the dad cancels the business trip and decides to dress up as Santa Claus and surprise his family. On Christmas Eve he climbs on the roof and begins to slide down the chimney.

Unfortunately, he gets stuck in the chimney and dies from asphyxiation. Later that night when the family lights the yule log they smell a strange singed odor. Yup, you guessed it — smoked dead Santa!

Variations:
  • The dead man's absence from the house is not noticed by the family because he is ostensibly away on a business trip. He is able to return to the house because his trip is cancelled, he cancels the trip himself, or the trip was nothing but a ruse.
  • In different versions the man dies from asphyxiation, a broken neck, exposure, or smoke inhalation.
  • The dead man is discovered when his family lights a fire and the smoke backs up into the house, or when they notice the smell of charred flesh.
Origins:   The Cartoon of the legend "stuck Santa" story is perhaps the most archetypical of the many urban legends involving a juxtaposition of enjoyment and tragedy. What could be more horrifying for children at Christmastime — the> season of peace on Earth, goodwill towards men, joyful family gatherings, and oodles of eagerly-anticipated presents — than than the catastrophic discovery that both dad (literally) and Santa Claus (figuratively) have died in a ghastly accident?

On the flip side, humorous stories about Santas getting stuck in chimneys have been around nearly as long as the Santa Claus legend itself, as exemplified by Christmas novelty songs such as Ella Fitzgerald's "Santa Claus Got Stuck in My Chimney," Jimmy Boyd's "Santa Got Stuck in the Chimney," and Gisele MacKenzie's "Too Fat for the Chimney."

Although there have been numerous verified accounts of amateur Santas getting stuck in chimneys (and some would-be burglars dying there), no instance of a real Santa-garbed father's perishing in a chimney has yet surfaced.

Sightings:   This legend was used in the 1984 film Gremlins, as Phoebe Cates' character (Kate) explained to her friend Zach Galligan that her father had disappeared before Christmas one year and was found stuck halfway down the chimney with a bag of toys several days later.

Last updated:   30 July 2007

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  Sources Sources:
    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   The Baby Train.
    New York: W. W. Norton, 1993.   ISBN 0-393-31208-9   (p. 74).

    The Chicago Tribune.   "Santa Comes Late, Looking Suspicious."
    6 January 1993   (p. 6).

    The Independent.   "Sooty Suitor Snuffs Fires of Passion."
    19 September 1995   (p. 9).

    Orlando Sentinel Tribune.   "'Christmas Bandit' Finds Chimney Is Sticking Point."
    10 December 1990   (p. B3).

Sources Also told in:
    The Big Book of Urban Legends.
    New York: Paradox Press, 1994.   ISBN 1-56389-165-4   (p. 102).