Thursday, 23 December 2010

Santa and Odin - Christmas folklore

I've finally done all my last minute gift-buying for the holiday season and now feel ready to gorge myself on turkey in two days. Since it's that time of the year, I thought it would be good to talk about an aspect of Christmas that is instantly recognisable - Santa Claus.

The loveable fat guy who defies physics is a tradition that has spawned from a number of sources, one of those inspirations for the myth being the Norse god Odin. Like Santa, Odin would fly his eight-legged steed, Sleipnir, across the world at winter, spear in hand and accompanied by his ravens, Huginn and Muninn, delivering gifts to the good and punishing the cruel. You can instantly see the parallels, although I think Santa would be so much more badass with a spear. Odin was said to have a cloak of blue and a long white beard, but I doubt he went 'ho ho ho'.

When the Christianization of Germanic countries came about between the 8th and 12th centuries, the legend of Odin was mingled with the current Saint Nicholas figure, a 4th century saint from Greece. He was said to be incredibly generous, such as leaving coins in people's shoes that they had left out for him. What we see today is an amalgamation of Odin and Saint Nicholas - only without the badass spear.