Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Norse connection

We all know of the famous jolly figure that roams our night sky at Christmas Eve this time of the year. Many of us know of the connection that he has to St. Nicholas, but can you recall....... the Norse connection. I almost broke into song just then. LOL
    Anyhow, our Santa Claus has it's begins with the folklore and traditions of the pagans of the North, the Norse. Some stories are quite interesting.
     Santa Claus was known as Father Christmas and became a part of the greater European folklore around the 1950s, but earlier than that, he was quite different. His origins steeped in Viking and Norse lore.  Britain was largely a Saxon stronghold. Christianity was having it's own troubles at the time. A lot of people think that Christianity took hold of Britain very swift, but it different. It took many years to take root. It was still unknown and isolated from Europe's mainstream. After the Norman invasion in 1066, the oaths that were taken were commonly sworn as "By God and by Odin." King Frost, Father Time or King Winter were known and welcomed by the Saxons. Someone would represented him by wearing a fine hat or crown and then would go from house to house.  He would then be brought to the fireside, tell stories and share in the meals. The Saxons believed that by welcoming the figure the element Winter would be less frighten and harsh for them.
     The Vikings came along and brought with them their god Odin. Odin was considered the Father of the Gods.  December was known as Yalka or Jul. Odin's month was known as Jultid, this is where we get Yuletide or Yule. At Yule or Winter Solstice, the Vikings believed Odin would come to earth riding his eight legged horse, Sleipner. He was thought or shown to be dressed in a long blue,  hooded cloak and he carried a satchel of bread and a staff in his hand. He had two companions with him, two ravens, Huginn and Munin, who would inform him on what was going on.
     Sleipner with his 8 legs represented the number of transformation. The two ravens, Huginn and Munin, represented Thought and Memory. The spear that he carried never missed it's target. It was named, Gungner which represented Clear and Focus Tent. Yes, there is a 'lesson' here. LOL
     When Odin came to earth he was suppose to join groups who were huddled around their fires and hearths. He would sit in the background, listening to all that was going on and to see who was 'good' and who was 'bad'. He was also listening to see who was content and who wasn't. Occasionally he would leave a gift of bread at the poor homesteads.
     Also at Yule, it was thought that Odin lead a great hunting party through the sky with other gods and honored warriors who had came to Valhalla. Children were place their boots near the fireplace or chimney for Oden's flying horse. They would put inside the boots things  like carrots, straw or sugar for Sleipner to eat. Odin would then reward their kindness by replacing Sleipner's food with gifts of candy and toys.
     Another Norse god that could have something to do with the beginnings of Santa Claus was Thor. He was the God of Thunder. He was thought to have a long white beard and wore red, representing his element fire. He rode in a chariot being pulled by 2 white goats known as Cracker and Gnasher. His palace was located in the 'northland' or north pole. He was friendly and cheerful. He had the utmost respect among the common folk for it was them that he loved and carried for. Many Norse traditions taught that he would come down the chimney into the fire to visit the household.
     Jultomten or the Tomte/Nisse was another figure who could have loan his characteristics to the legend of Santa Claus. Again this is a Norse figure of Viking lore. He was gnome who lived on the farms. In his beginnings he was known as the Tomte.  In ancient times, he was known as the 'soul' of the first inhabiter of the farm. He was usually described as a short man under 4 feet tall, wearing a red cap with a tassel. He wore the hunters' or farmers' winter clothes; a brown jacket and brown trousers. He would take care of the farmers' home and children. He would protect them, including the livestock, while they slept. There are many stories concerning the Tomte finishing the work on a barn or house when the workers would take a lunch break. People would still hammering and banging through-out the nights and they would say that the Tomte was still working. He was kind to the livestock and took well care of them. You could tell which horse he would favor because it would be more healthier than the rest. Even though he was real small, he had immense strength and was a big help around the farmstead.
     Although he was considered kind to the farmer's family and livestock, he was very easily to offend. If the farmer treated his family wrong or didn't take care of the livestock or was lazy on the work that needed to be done around the farm, he would get very angry. He would run around box your ears, kick you, turning over mail pails or teasing the livestock by maybe tying the cows' tails in knots. The family would leave him a bowl of porridge on Christmas night with a pad of butter on top. That's the way he likes it. If he doesn't get it, he throws a fit. One story told of a man who placed the butter under the porridge. The Tomte was very upset and went around ruining the farmer.
     Through-out time stories were re-written or re-told and he became known as the jultomte, who would bring gifts in a sleigh driven by the 2 goats of Thor. He then wore a red suit and a cap, carrying a bulging sack on his back. He would bring the good kids gifts and he would punish the bad kids.
     So we owe the Norse for our famous hero at this time of the year, Santa Claus. There are many more traditions and figures who attributed to the sleigh riding figure such as St. Nicholas, but I figured I would concentrate on his pagan beginnings and I found it interesting and learned a lot. I hope you did as well.


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