We’ve made it to December the 21st, and while this might be a bit premature, I feel reasonably confident in saying that it’s not the end of the world!
It is, however, the Solstice. Hurray! In the northern hemisphere, the shortest day is over and the light is coming back into the world. We’re a few days from celebrating Christmas, of course, but there’s very little doubt that the early Christian churches essentially crashed the existing, pagan, solstice parties for the second biggest ‘do’ of their religious year.
Like a lot of people, I feel the dark days of winter pressing down on me. I joke sometimes that I must have evolved from something that hibernated, because I could quite happily pull the duvet over my head in mid November and not come out until March. Honestly, I really wish I could! Christmas is a bright light shining from the long dark days of winter, and I fully understand why our forefathers would have celebrated the arrival of the solstice – and the return of the light – with much feasting and drinking, even though the hardest, hungriest days of winter were still to come.
I’m always fascinated to find out how we come to hold the folk beliefs that we do, so I was particularly interested to hear a couple of years ago about the Sami goddess of spring and fertility. Her name is Beaivi (or variant spellings), and she was widely worshipped among the people of Fennoscandia (broadly modern Scandinavia). Her main celebration was winter solstice, when she was believed to fly through the sky with her daughter in sled of reindeer antlers. Her followers would sacrifice a white female reindeer, and thread pieces of the meat onto a wooden stick, twist it into a circle, and decorate it with bright ribbons.
Beaivi, incidentally, is the goddess of fertility and sanity – particularly beautifully observed, I would say, as both are brought back by the light of spring.
The Father Christmas / Santa Claus character is such a great cultural cocktail of a myth. Clearly there’s some northern European solstice god(dess) in the mix – at least that’s the best theory I can find about how the reindeer got there! Add to this a good measure of Christian crusades Saint (step forward, St Nick!), and then top up with a generous glug CocaCola! Since, while the Victorians had all but invented modern Father Christmas, his suit is not usually one of red with white trim – his colours ran much more to the spruce green! It’s not entirely clear that CocaCola were the first people to dress him in red and white, at the start of the 20th century, but certainly they popularised the choice, and then published it widely. Well, consider the branding… **holidays are coming… holidays are coming…**
So the jolly fat man, with a red suit and a big white beard, rides around in a sleigh pulled by reindeer (they’ve got off lightly, then, since Beaivi’s day), bringing toys to all the good boys and girls, but no longer threatening the bad boys and girls with a lump of coal and a righteous beating…
But Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen (and their latterly-discovered friend, Rudolf) have an identity problem, because at this time of year, the only reindeer with antlers are the female ones!
Incidentally, if you haven’t yet come across Terry Pratchett’s ‘Hogfather’, I can heartily recommend it for a great bit of seasonal reading (or viewing, the TV adaptation from a few years back is remarkably good), it’s a fabulous bit of sideways-on myth re-imagining!
I’m trying to write a post a day during Advent, so, please come along with me while I try to Blog Advent – the Country Skills Way – and forgive me if I don’t quite manage it!
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