Dec 23, 2009

A Few Christmas Origins, Part II

The Origin of Christmas Tree

Legend has it that in 722, the German Saint Boniface encountered some Pagans who were about to sacrifice a child at the base of a huge oak tree. He cut down the tree to prevent the sacrifice and a Fir tree grew up at the base of the oak. He then told everyone that this lovely evergreen, with its branches pointing to heaven, was a holy tree - the tree of the Christ child, and a symbol of His promise of eternal life.

Research, however, tells us a different tale. The ancient Pagans, Druids, Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews celebrated the Winter Solstice, (Dec. 21st) by bringing greenery into their homes to usher in a fertile time of planting and bountiful harvests. The evergreen tree represented eternal life and the promise of replenishment during the cold winter months.

Apples and other fruit were hung upon the tree to represent the plentiful food to come. Candles were lighted to symbolize the warmth and brightness of the sun. While the Christmas tree is generally associated with Christ, it predates this religious figure by many centuries.

Later, Germans hung wafers on the tree along with the apples to represent the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. In the Victorian era, the apples were replaced by red glass balls and candles and the representation signified both Adam and Eve along with the fire of life. The Christmas tree was also used to scare away evil forces for the new year.

After the beginning of the New Year, January 1, the Pagans would take the chopped decorated Christmas tree down and burn the "Yule" log in remembrance of the past year. They would rejoice in song and dance for the goals that had been completed and in jubilation for the coming of the Spring and life. Furthermore, New Year's resolutions were constructed at a later date from the Pagans setting of the goals.

From St.Nicholas to Santa Claus

Nicholas was born in Parara, Turkey in 270 CE and later became Bishop of Myra. He died in 345 CE on December 6th. He was only named a saint in the 19th century.

In 1087, a group of sailors who idolized Nicholas moved his bones from Turkey to a sanctuary in Bari, Italy. There Nicholas supplanted a female boon-giving deity called The Grandmother, who used to fill children's stockings with her gifts. The Grandmother was ousted from her shrine at Bari, which became the center of the Nicholas cult. Members of this group gave each other gifts during a pageant they conducted annually on the anniversary of Nicholas’ death, December 6.

The Nicholas cult spread north until it was adopted by German and Celtic pagans. These groups worshipped a pantheon led by Woden –their chief god and the father of Thor, Balder, and Tiw. Woden had a long, white beard and rode a horse through the heavens one evening each Autumn. When Nicholas merged with Woden, he shed his Mediterranean appearance, grew a beard, mounted a flying horse, rescheduled his flight for December, and donned heavy winter clothing.

In 1809, the novelist Washington Irving wrote a satire of Dutch culture entitled Knickerbocker History. The satire refers several times to the white bearded, flying-horse riding Saint Nicholas using his Dutch name, Santa Claus.

Dr. Clement Moore, a professor at Union Seminary, read Knickerbocker History, and in 1822 he published a poem based on the character Santa Claus: Moore innovated by portraying a Santa with eight reindeer who descended through chimneys.

In 1863, during the Civil War, political cartoonist Thomas Nast began a series of annual black-and-white drawings in Harper's Weekly, based on the descriptions found in the poem and Washington Irving's work. These drawings established a rotund Santa with flowing beard, fur garments, and an omnipresent clay pipe.

Nast's Santa supported the Union and President Lincoln believed this contributed to the Union troops' success by demoralizing Confederate soldiers. As Nast drew Santas until 1886, his work had considerable influence in forming the American Santa Claus. Nast also gave Santa a home at the North Pole, his workshop filled with elves, and his list of the good and bad children of the world. Along with appearance changes, the saint's name shifted to Santa Claus—a natural phonetic alteration from the German Sankt Niklaus.

In 1931, the Coca Cola Corporation contracted the Swedish commercial artist Haddon Sundblom to create a coke-drinking Santa. Sundblom modeled his Santa on his friend Lou Prentice, chosen for his cheerful, chubby face. The corporation insisted that Santa’s fur-trimmed suit be bright, Coca Cola red. And Santa was born – a blend of Christian crusader, pagan god, and commercial idol.

3 comments:

Erica said...

More interesting tid-bits. I feel like I'm getting smarter reading this stuff - sadly that's probably not true. Thanks for the enlightenment :o)

Merry Christmas!

Jamie D. said...

Wow - you really dug up a lot of information! :-) Nice, and very interesting...

C R Ward said...

Thank you ladies!

Merry Christmas to you both!