Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Santa Claus, Father Christmas and.........Odin?

Odin on his 8 legged horse (Image source:
The Winter Solstice has been celebrated since time immemorial, and in the  cold Nordic countries, where the return of the Sun's life giving warmth is of particular concern, there is evidence that it's been celebrated since the time of the Megalith builders and before.  Yule/Jól was was probably connected to the full moon nearest the winter solstice.
Santa with his flying Reindeer

According to Wikipedia: 

Yule or Yuletide ("Yule time") is a religious festival observed by the historical Germanic peoples, later being absorbed into and equated with the Christian festival of Christmas. The earliest references to Yule are by way of indigenous Germanic month names (Ærra Jéola (Before Yule) or Jiuli and Æftera Jéola (After Yule). Scholars have connected the celebration to the Wild Hunt, the god Odin and the pagan Anglo-Saxon Modranicht.    Yule is also used to a lesser extent in English-speaking countries to refer to Christmas. Customs such as the Yule log, Yule goat, Yule boar, Yule singing, and others stem from Yule or Yuletide ("Yule time"). 

Yule is the modern English representative of the Old English words ġéol or ġéohol and ġéola or ġéoli, with the former indicating the 12-day festival of "Yule" (later: "Christmastime") and the latter indicating the month of "Yule", whereby ǽrra ġéola referred to the period before the Yule festival (December) and æftera ġéola referred to the period after Yule (January). Both words are thought to be derived from Common Germanic *jeχʷla-, and are cognate with Gothic (fruma) jiuleis and Old Norse.   The word is attested in an explicitly pre-Christian context primarily in Old Norse.

 Among many others  the long-bearded god Odin bears the names jólfaðr (Old Norse 'Yule father') and jólnir (Old Norse 'the Yule one'). "

 The  Yule Log

The origins of  the Nordic Yule go back to a feast to honor the Norse God Odin, who among other things was the jolly  God of Intoxicating Drink. The custom of  the Yule Log or Yule Tree  emerged from this winter festival as well.  

The custom of Yule log varies from region to region.  It's good to remember the primal importance of the gift of warmth and of fire to early people living in the cold North, the "flame at the Hearth" for ancient families.  The Log may have originally been a large tree (Christmas Trees)  brought to the house with great ceremony. 

On Christmas, people light the Yule log placed in the hearth.   The burning of the Yule Log brings good fortune for family and friends.   After Christmas celebrations, a piece of the Yule log is retained to relight next year along with next year's log.

Origins of Santa Claus 

"The appearance of Santa Claus or Father Christmas, whose day is 25th of December, owes much to Odin, the old blue-hooded, cloaked, white-bearded Gift bringer of the north, who rode the midwinter sky on his eight-footed steed Sleipnir, visiting his people with gifts. … Odin, transformed into Father Christmas, then Santa Claus, prospered with St Nicholas on the Christmas stage."

......Margaret Baker 
The Origins of Santa Claussanta claus changing designSt.  Nicholas was a 4th-century Christian bishop from Lycia (now in Turkey), who was  known for his charity, and giving gifts to the poor. In one notable story, he met a pious but impoverished man who had three daughters. He presented them with dowries to save them from a life of prostitution. In most traditional Iconic images,  St. Nicholas is portrayed as a bearded bishop, wearing clerical robes, an important patron saint of  children, the poor, and prostitutes.
So few people know that Santa Claus is a blend of an early Christian saint living in Turkey (Saint Nickolaus)  and the Norse god Odin, with a few other influence thrown in over the ages. But I guess that would take away the fun............

The other mythos from which Santa Claus derives is much earlier,  Odin, the ruler of Asgard.    Odin was often depicted as leading a hunting party through the skies, during which he rode his eight-legged horse, Sleipnir. In the 13th-century Poetic Edda, Sleipnir is described as being able to leap great distances, which some scholars have compared to the legends of Santa's reindeer (and, of course, the Edda are from Finland, which once abounded with reindeer). Odin was portrayed as an old man with a long, white beard. 

Odin (1886) by Georg von Rosen
I read that during the winter, in some pagan folklore, children would place their  boots near the chimney (and in the cold of a Nordic winter, it's a good place to put them), filling them with carrots or straw as a gift for Sleipnir. When Odin flew by, he rewarded the little ones by leaving gifts in their boots. Like traditions of the "Green Man" in England, in rural areas of Germanic countries  this practice survived despite the adoption of Christianity. As a result,  gift-giving became associated with St. Nicholas rather than the earlier Pagan god Odin.  Only now we hang stockings by the chimney, and leave cake and brandy rather than carrots and straw.


Trish and Rob MacGregor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Wow, that last image is great. Is it one of your masks? I love the way myths speaks to us constantly. (Removed that previous comment for typos!) Happy holidays!

lauren raine said...

Happy Holidays to you and all as well!