The Contemporary New England Witch

The Contemporary New England Witch
Author Ms.Faith

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Who is Santa Claus really? An expose' !

 Evening Greetings,

Yes, as the title suggests, in tonight's discussion I will be 'outing' Santa Claus.  I think its time everyone knew who he is, and just how he came to have such an important role in this winter holiday.  Santa is typically thought of as a secular figure whom many feel was created by a Coca Cola advertising campaign, (which is false, by the way) or even by Clement Clarke Moore in 1823 with his Christmas bedtime story, "A Visit from St. Nicholas" now known as "Night before Christmas".   But again,  like so many things in our popular modern day culture we need to peer back, way back into the mists of history to find the origins of this mythical, but oh so important figure of modern day Christmas.

Some of the names that have been associated with this figure are: Sinterklaas, St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, and Kris Kringle.  But what's interesting to me,  is it seems some of the first legends that have the same attributes as Santa today,  had to do with a female Santa!  Wait, let me back up a bit. 

Firstly, as you've no doubt noticed from the discussions we've had about Christmas so far, that many of Christmas's symbols and imagery comes from the winter traditions of Germany, Scandinavia and the Slavic countries. Perhaps because the winters in this part of the world are so brutal and non-relenting, not to mention long, dark and lonely, with some regions having very little daylight for a good part of the winter, that created a need for something to occupy the mind and heart.  The decorations as well as the legends and fairy tales flourished and were designed  to keep everyone believing that the spring would come.

I mean think about it, we have t.v., computers and a host of entertainments and distractions in our lives today. The ancient peoples didn't have any of these things to help get through a hard, cold, long winter.  It makes sense that some entertainment in the form of storytelling developed to pass the long hours, along with the feasting and drinking.  So, in the Germanic legends,  a goddess of the winter, a white lady who appeared as both a young maiden and an old, wise, ancient crone emerged as the goddess Holda. There are actually winter goddesses depicting the crone in so many ancient cultures, from the Calliech Beara in Scotland, The Baba Yaga in Poland, Hecate in Greece and the Goddess Holda from Germany, to name just a few. 

I see in Holda's story the origins of the Santa Claus story.  Holda or Frau Holle was a goddess who first appeared in Latin inscriptions during the period 197 c.e.- 235 c.e., and like many ancient goddesses,  could be beneficent or cruel and punishing.  She fell out of favor when Germany became Christian and she was associated as a matron or queen of the witches.

In 1494 Stephanus Lanzkrana in Die Hymelstrass  warned those who would worship 'the heathen goddess', and noted that followers left out meat and drink for her, which was considered a pagan sacrifice, yet more closely resembles an offering similar to leaving out Christmas cookies and milk for Santa today.

In 1630 a man, convicted as a witch, after he confessed to believing in Holda, which  identifies her in history as a goddess of the old religion. Many of the ancient goddesses rode through the sky using typical women's tools such as a broom stick, mop, and in the case of the Baba Yaga from Poland,  in a mortar with the pestle used as a rudder.  Yet even the Baba Yaga,  .  .  .  Oh! alright go ahead. Say her name aloud, you know you want to. I'll wait. 

Even the Baba Yaga wasn't without a broom, which she dragged behind her to eliminate any trail she might make.

These goddesses would often, as in the case of Holda, bring good children candy and sweets,  whereas bad children would be eaten alive or punished, or sometimes gifted with rocks or switches for their parents to use on them.  The behavior of children seemed a popular focus on these gift bearing visits of a grandmotherly type of goddess during mid winter.  Even though it seems scary how some of these goddesses would treat naughty children, they were all protectors of children and the souls of children who had died.

I see a strong resemblance between these legends and the fairy tales of  Ciinderella with her fairy godmother written in 1697 by Charles Perrault.and the Hansel and Grete fairy tale,written by the Brother's Grimm in 1812,  along with others.

Now, back to Santa Clause, .   .   .   that is .  .  .  if that's is his real name?   The name Sinterklaas comes from the Dutch and there is evidence that the first legends surrounding an individual like Santa were legends of the Norse God Odin. Odin was an ancient God in the Norse countries, now Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Lapland, Greenland and surrounding areas. He would travel through the night skies on Yule eve on a flying horse with eight legs, named Sleipnir. Young children would leave carrots, straw and sugar for Odin's horse in their boots at night. To thank them for their generosity Odin would leave sweets and presents for the children and take the offerings for his horse.  In Nordic countries the original bearer of gifts for children around the winter solstice was the Yule goat.  Yes I said goat!,  which speaks to the original pagan roots of this holiday.  What?! You've never heard of the Yule goat?  It's a good thing I'm here. Let's continue.

St. Nicholas was a real man who lived from 270 to December 6,  343. He was a Greek Bishop of Myra, (Demre, Lycia in modern day Turkey) and is also known as Nicholaos of Myra.  He was known for using his family inheritance to make others life's more fortunate and is best known for this story:

A father had three daughters and he could not afford to marry them off, as a 'dowry' or money paid to the groom was expected in this time and age. He contemplated selling one daughter as a slave, or prostitute depending on which version of the story you hear, so he could marry off the other two.  Nicholaos of Myra heard of this father's dilemma and one night snuck into the house and furtively placed gold in all three daughters stockings.  This way they were able to be successfully married off and the stockings filled with gifts portion of this story clung to the legend.  It may also shed light on why St. Nicholas is the patron saint of thieves!  He is also the patron saint of children, orphans and pawnbrokers!

With these ancient cultural fairy tales and mythologies added to the brew, we'll  now stir into the cauldron some American  influences to help create the Santa Claus we know today.  Let us now take a moment to clarify the time line of Santa in American history to dispel rumors and urban myths.

In 1821 a book published in New York "A New-year's present, to the little ones from five to twelve"  had a poem called "Old Santeclaus"  This poem was submitted anonymously and describes an old man, being drawn by reindeer in his sleigh, as he delivers gifts to children.

Then on December 23rd, 1823 a poem was published called "A Visit from St. Nicholas" in The Sentinel. Published in Troy, New York this poem was anonymously submitted but later was attributed to Clement Clarke Moore and is today best known as "The Night Before Christmas".  Many of Santa's modern day attributes are found in this poem. 

The clothes he wears, the tiny reindeer that fly through the sky, the sleigh he uses to deliver the toys, landing on the roof and coming down the chimney, having a sack full of toys, and filling the stockings.  I like this poem especially because it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Santa was a magickal being.  I wouldn't necessarily call him a witch or wizard because not all magickal beings are called such, but magickal without a doubt! 

Following these stories came the famous image of Santa immortalized by Thomas Nast  on January 3, 1863 in an issue of Harper's Weekly.  Nast was a caricaturist and political cartoonist.  This was the first visual depiction of Santa Claus in America, whereas the previous mentions were literary descriptions alone.  The first Santa created by Nast and published in Harper's Weekly,  is included in the side bar at the right of this story. 

As for the legend that Santa was invented by the Coca Cola Company?! Really? Does anyone believe that?  That's like saying the Energizer company invented the bunny!! Yet apparently there are those who need to know, so let's set the record straight.  The Coca Cola Company not only did not create Santa or his image, they were not even the first beverage company to use the image of Santa Claus.  White Rock Beverages used the modern image of Santa to advertise its mineral water as early as 1915, then again to promote their ginger ale in 1923. The Coca Cola Company first used Santa's image in their advertising in the 1930's.  

Well, having 'outed' Santa as it were, how would I answer little eight year old Virginia O' Hanlon if she asked me if there was a Santa Claus?  I agree with the response given by the editor of New York's Sun on September 21, 1897 . Frances Pharcellus Church was a man of vision and a man who understood the mind and hearts of children and adults.  Let me share this with you, as I so appreciate the touch of magick found within his reply. 
"DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
"Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
"Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.'
"Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?


VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

--as written and published in the 'Sun' newspaper, New York, NY on September 21, 1897 by editor Frances Pharcellus Church

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