Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Evolution of Santa Claus by Thomas Purcell

The Evolution of Santa Claus by Thomas Purcell 1907

See also The Pagan Origins of Christmas - 40 Books on CDROM and The Pagan Christ, Over 200 Books on DVDrom (Christ Myth) Mithras, Buddha etc

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Gallant old Father Christmas or Santa Claus, as he is more familiarly known, presiding genius of the Yuletide, has quite an interesting life's history from which we learn that even in his case there is much to bear out the theory of evolution. He began life as the god of plenty in the dim, mystical past bringing cheer to the old Romans. He was then known as Saturn, the ostracized son of Coelus and Gaia, but even in that remote period he was a hoary man, bent with age. Instead of a pack on his back he carried a scythe in his right hand. With this instrument he reaped a store of good things for the Yuletide feast. About the same period the Greeks honored him as Kronos in the drear December days in hopeful anticipation of a rejuvenated earth. He was known also to the Pagan Briton, by whom he was celebrated under the Oak tree, while the hardy Saxons knew him as a double personality—Woden and Thor—and they feasted in honor of those gods at the winter solstice, hoping thereby to induce them to warm and replenish the earth. By the Saxons the midwinter feast was called Mother Night or Yule and it was the time of revelry and rejoicing. The Teutonic races thought that Father Christmas was the sun-god whose ship was drawn by a boar.

When Augustine went to England he converted the Pagan Saxon festival into what is now known as the Christmas festival, symbolizing Christ in a representation of Father Christmas, a hoary person suggestive of the dying year, and yet a beneficent individual diffusing good cheer. He appeared in costume at the Yuletide revels and his long flowing locks were decked with holly and mistletoe. Instead of the scythe that Saturn carried he flourished a wassail bowl, emblem of good cheer, and the basket that has since been transferred to his back was slung over his left arm. In recent times the identity of Father Christmas has been merged into that of Santa Claus who was once a living, breathing personage—the good Bishop St. Nicholas. This reverend gentleman was born in Asia Minor where he gave early proof of his extraordinary character by standing upright in his bath immediately after his birth. He became the special benefactor of children and performed many miracles. It is related that once upon a time a gentleman sent his three sons to Myra, the town in which Bishop Nicholas resided, to pay their respects to the holy man. Arriving in the city late at night, they went to an inn, and were murdered by the landlord who coveted their possessions. The murderer concealed the bodies of his victims in a pickling tub. St. Nicholas saw in a vision what had occurred, and crozier in hand, went to the inn, interviewed the landlord who confessed his crime, and then demanded to see the tub. When it was shown to him he waved his hand over it, and the boys came to life.

In various continental cities the good St. Nicholas is honored as the presiding genius of the children's festival. In Brussels throughout December the toy and confectioners’ shops are filled with chocolate bishops, from small single figures to elaborate representations of St. Nicholas raising the boys to life from the pickle tub. The children would not consider that their stockings had been satisfactorily filled if they did not contain an image of the saint along with the presents he is supposed to bring. In Vienna, the Christmas markets also show a great array of bishops and angels specially intended for good children, while hideous imps called Krampus, with black woolly coats, glaring eyes, and red tongues hanging out of their mouths, and carrying a bundle of birch rods on their backs, are sold for naughty children. However, all the boys and girls like to have a Krampus; his ugliness is much more entertaining than the saintly figure of St. Nicholas.

In the country districts of Austria the custom still survives of placing baskets on the window-sill at night by the head of the house to receive the gifts of St. Nicholas, and has long been the recognized way of bestowing Christmas presents. Often a goose and other cheer will be found in the basket, which bears out the same idea as the hampers of good things left secretly on the door-step of a friend’s house in the olden days in England by Father Christmas.

In Germany and the Scandinavian countries St. Nicholas receives his meed of worship. At one time youths dressed as the “Knicht Klaubauf” paraded the villages of Germany to inquire into the behaviour of the children and report on their conduct to St. Nicholas when he was preparing his gifts. A naughty child was sometimes put into the pannier of the dreaded "Klaubauf" and carried off screaming. The terrorizing of children in this way became a scandal in some districts and was finally suppressed by the authorities.

Santa Claus being identical with a saintly bishop is everywhere regarded as a celebrate save among the Swiss who are determined that the decay of home life shall not be attributed to the gay and generous old gentleman of the flowing beard. In the land of William Tell he appears on the streets in some villages with his young wife Lucy and they walk arm in arm distributing gifts to the children. In France Santa Claus is known as Bon-homme-Nau, and there he is accompanied on his gift-bearing rounds by Jean Noel, the Christ Child. When all the church bells of Paris are ringing in the Nativity Jean Noel makes his rounds filling tiny shoes with bon-bons. In some parts of rural France the Bon-homme-Nau presides over the triumphant bringing of the yule log, cosse de Nau, into the house, where it is placed on the open hearth, ready to be lighted with a brand from last year’s burning, when the first note of the Christmas chimes sounds from the village church. Then the children are bid to retire to the corner of the room and say prayers to the Christ Child, and, at a word from the parents, come trooping back to find that their petitions have been heard, and the ends of the blazing log are hung with gifts. A safer if less picturesque custom more in use today is to place a Christmas tree, arbre de Nau, on the hearth and hang the presents on it instead of upon the projecting ends of the yule log.

In Italy the presiding genius of the mid-winter festival was a woman called Befana, a species of female Father Christmas, who brought secret gifts. The name is thought to be a corruption of the Greek Epiphania, and the festival of Befana was kept in commemoration of the Magi bringing their gifts to the Holy Child. The monks and nuns used to celebrate Befana with great fun and merriment, and the Cardinals, in olden days, came to the Pope's Palace for the festival and played Latto, receiving wine and various dainties as prizes in honor of Befana.

Around the custom has grown a legend, which is as popular amongst Italian children as that of Santa Claus is here. Befana, according to nursery story, is a misshapen old woman with repulsive features, who visits every child on the eve of January 6th. She rewards the good with presents, and takes the naughty boys and girls to her subterranean dwelling. Italian parents threaten their refractory children with Befana, just as the German fathers and mothers do theirs with Klaubauf, the evil knight of Santa Claus. It is to the credit of our Santa Claus that he makes no distinction between children but for his purpose considers them all equally meritorious.

In Spain the Christmas festival centres around the adoration of the manger, culminating on Twelfth Night with the giving of presents. From his earliest years King Alfonso has had a magnificent gold manger set up in the palace, around which he and the sons of noblemen of the Court dance, playing with castanet and cymbal.

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