As the weather gets colder, and the stores grow busier, I find myself reflecting on the reason for the season. Not the Earth's rotation around the Sun as I somewhat cynically commented the other day, but the OTHER, less mundane reason. It actually has very little to do with wise men, camels, or weirdly inappropriate gifts for babies.
Way back before the rise of monotheistic religions, the celebrations focused around this month actually were about the Earth's rotation around the Sun. Rather than the birth of the son, the world was waiting with bated breath for the rebirth of the SUN. All of the trees, candles, tinsel and lights were acts of sympathetic magic, to encourage the sun to come back during the long dark of winter.
The holly and mistletoe that are so common around this time of year, actually refer to Druidic traditions of the battle between the Holly King and the Oak King for supremacy over the world. The winter Solstice was the time they did battle, and the victory of the Oak King heralded the return of the sun and the coming Spring. Harvesting the Oak Mistletoe was symbolic of the victory of one king over another.
Woden, the god of magic and healing, found in both Celtic and anglo-Saxon Mythology, is considered to be the very first “Father Christmas”. At the Winter Solstice, or Yule, he would ride across the sky on an eight-legged white horse. As he traveled he would spread goodwill, luck, peace and gifts to all he came across.
So, how did Woden or Odin, become Santa Claus?
In 4thy century Europe a monk called St Nicholas, was beloved for the generous gifts he would give to poor people. After his death, his feast day was celebrated on December 6th, and presents were given to children in his name. Later, after the reformation banned the day for the veneration of saints celebrated by the catholic church (Dec 25th) His feast day was moved to replace this. Which in turn became a replacement for the pagan Winter Solstice celebrations.
Meanwhile, over in the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland, we have Sinterklaas. Also based on the good Saint Nicholas. And depicted with a long white beard wearing a bishops red robes. In him we can start to see the origins of the jolly Santa Claus that many of us grew up with.
Eventually, thanks to human travel, story writers and good advertising campaigns we ended up with the fat, jolly Santa Claus we know and love today. Yes Virginia, Santa Claus in his current form is a product of a really good marketing campaign designed to sell us things we didn't know we needed
The most important thing about this time of year though, is to honor it in a way that has deep meaning to you personally. It is in honoring these seasonal changes that we can bring ourselves more in tune with the energies of the Earth and make our spiritual path an integral part of every day life.