Singular Cerebrations: Secret Santa

I assume most people are at least somewhat familiar with Saint Nicholas, the 4th century Turkish bishop who loved secretly giving gifts and person most often associated with Santa Claus, but how many are aware of the link between Santa and Odin?  Judging by the number of people to whom I've spoken so far this Yuletide season, my guess would be not many.  A more suspicious man than myself might surmise that the Germanic pagan origin of Santa Claus has been wiped out due to the overwhelming influence of Christianity in our society, but I try not to be paranoid.

I do find it interesting that in our modern mythology, Santa is a robust, bearded man who travels by night bestowing gifts on those he deems worthy, pulled by what are described as eight tiny reindeer.  Odin used to lead what was called the Wild Hunt at the end of December during Yule, and at that time was known to bless or curse people as he saw fit.  And what did he ride?  His famed eight-legged horse, Sleipnir.  Eight tiny reindeer.  An eight-legged horse.  Bearded men travelling by night to deliver weal or woe dependent entirely upon their personal system of morality.  I'm sensing a theme, here.

And that's not all.  The children of our ancestors would leave out food for his poor, tired horse, and in exchange Odin would leave them treats.  I always suspected that we had screwed up by leaving milk and cookies for Santa.  I mean, how much of an appetite could Santa really build by being driven around all night?

We shouldn't forget his elvish servitors, either.  These helpful spirits are likely based on the Scandinavian Nisse as popularized by fiction writers in the mid-19th century, but were likely also informed by Odin's connection to Alfheim, the Germanic home of the elves.

So there you have it.  This holiday season, I hope you take a second to thank Odin for tirelessly visiting holiday cheer on the good, and Krampus-like curses on the bad.  And for heaven's sake, please leave a little something out for Sleipnir.  I bet the poor guy's exhausted.

Tobias WaylandComment