Is There a Connection Between Santa Claus and Odin?
Some comparisons may not make sense from a myopic point. However, going deep into details brings more light. Father Christmas, the jolly fat man is commonly characterised by bringing presents to children on Christmas Eve. It seems rather ridiculous that they share something in common with the mono-eyed, wolf-flanked, bloody-handed Viking god of war. To our ancestors, Santa Claus stood for the essence of approaching hardship with a positive attitude which entails abundance, generosity, protection and joy. Christmas is celebrated during winter, a time of great hardships in agrarian societies. On the other hand, Odin is not only known for being a god of war, he is also honoured for his wisdom which he mostly shared in his poetic work. More importantly, he was the epitome of heroic stoicism(McCoy, 2016) and the fact that he possessed similar qualities with Santa Clause gives us a close Santa-Odin relation.
Looking at Santa Claus traditional images rather than our modern, advertisement-adjusted images will act as the backbone of our comparison. Odin who had many names could also take many forms. He is popularly known for taking the form of an old, white-bearded traveller clad in a cloak and broad-brimmed hat or hood. His attire helped him to travel incognito when he was traversing the nine worlds in pursuit of knowledge. As observed by George 1886, before the Victorian sentiments of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” in 1823 and before the Coca-Cola Santa reinvention in the 1930s, Santa Claus resembled a tall, gaunt man with a fur trimmed cloak which matched his broad-brimmed hat/hood. This was imagery that could be easily recognized by any Viking.
Similarities between Santa Claus and Odin
Odin and Santa Claus are the character with numerous similarities including:
Placing Gifts in Stockings.
Odin would visit different homes at night and leave gifts for children during the Yule season. It was a custom for every Yule Nordic child to leave his/her boots stuffed with straw by the fireplace. When Odin returned from the Great Hunt, he would then leave sweets and other presents in place of straw (Wigington, 2017). The children would then celebrate the surprise he left for them when they woke up in the morning. Gift giving was also a common practice in Rome during Roman Saturnalia on every 17th of December. Today we practice such during Christmas and also hang stockings which are normally shaped like boots. This was a practice that has the roots from early Christian influence during St Nicholas era and is similar to Norse traditions. St Nicholas was highly known for his magnanimous deeds. He could often give presents to the poor. At one point, he met a poor man who had 3 daughters and made a point of giving them dowries as a present to save them from sinking in a prostitution life.
Details about Santa`s Reindeer can be traced from Moore`s poem entitled “A Visit from St Nicholas,” commonly referred to as “Twas a Night Before Christmas.” This is a reinvention of Santa Claus Reindeer description. In the original writings, Reindeers are depicted as beasts of burden in the Finland societies and other humid lands bordering the Northern part of Viking homeland. In Norse mythology, Odin rides a flying chariot known as Sleipnir which is pulled by his strong eight-legged flying horse. The chariot would cover very long distances as Odin went around distributing gifts to children (More like Santa Claus. In addition, the Vikings had another male deity who was mostly worshipped at Yule. He still had a chariot that was pulled by two flying goats. As observed by Kvilhaug, 2012, Vinje 2014, the ancient Yule festivals could only be complete in the presence of a man dressed like a goat going around dispensing gifts from a large bag.
The Elves and Duty Attendance.
The Elves used to help Santa Claus in his day to day chores. In Norse mythology, the dwarfs were honored for being great craftsmen who made wondrous entities in a very unique manner. Most often than not, Elves are referred to as “Odin Men.”
Ability to Read ones Character.
Santa knows whether you are good or bad without being told by anyone. Similarly, the Vikings believed Odin to possess such powers. Being the god of war and father of wisdom in Norse mythology, he would easily master individual`s characters and use it as a strategic tool against his enemies.
The Magic Bag.
Santa has a magic bay with which he carries unlimited toys and other gifts. Odin, on the other hand, would magically leave sweets and presents in every home for children. The bag must be magical and huge for him to dispense the gifts without him having a supply shortage.
Place of Residence.
It is believed that Santa Claus lives in the North Pole. Odin does not necessarily live there. He lives in Asgard (Scandinavia). The Scandinavia people saw the Northern mountainous regions where the midnight sun was found and the Northern lights as the land of the gods. In a similar occasion, the Vikings were known as “The northern” to the rest of the world.
Whereas Santa Claus is called Father Christmas, Allfather is a title given to Odin making the Santa-Odin image to be undeniable.
Christmas Traditions that Originated from the Vikings.
According to Ragnarok Traditional Practices, the Vikings had one great festive season during winter known as Yule or Jul. Winter is a season that marked great hardship in agrarian societies. Loss of the sun left people in darkness as they also coped with the coldness brought by the season The Yule was a great celebration where the Vikings expressed a new approach to hardship with positivity. The Yule marked as a turning point from darkness to light brought about by the rebirth of the sun. The holiday was devoted to worship. Thor was the deity mostly worshipped during that period but Odin still remained to be of significance to the Vikings. During that feasting period, the Vikings were equipped with what it takes to face the cold, dark winter and also celebrate the blessing of seeing a New Year. Since then, many cultural traditions from Yule in Norse mythology transferred to Europe and America and became part of their Christmas customs. Some of these traditional elements include:
Singing carols was one of the traditions that marked the Yule. These carols were not particularly similar to Christmas carols but every Nordic child would put a mask on the face and unite with other children for them to go visit every home in their neighborhood singing carols.
Yule was a festival holiday surrounded by magical atmosphere, especially at night. In the Celtic Samhain, it was also believed that the supernatural world and physical world were very close to each other during that period. With the close link between the two worlds, spirits could easily travel in the field and deep forests. The Elves, dwarfs and other supernatural beings were also very active to contribute in some of the human affairs. They could bring blessing and more importantly offered justice to the humans who respected them and were looking for a sense of justice with no success. Writings from many later times such as The Nutcracker or the spiritual journeys of Ebenezer Scrooge are stories that depict vivid Christmas imagery with themes and insights which can be easily identified by the Vikings. Norns` Gifts
The fates or rather the Norns were offered fruitcakes, fruits and sweet. The were also offered to mothers especially the pregnant or lactating ones because of their fertility and nurturing properties. The Indo-Europeans cults maybe the ones who introduced the forces but they were common to the Aesir Goddesses such as Freya and Frigg of Viking age.
Honoring Female Deities.
Mother Mary is very important to many Christians since she is believed to be the mother of their savior Jesus Christ. Catholics are the ones who relate mostly with mother Mary. They believe her to be their intercessor. However, mother Mary receives more attention around Christmas in preparation of the birth of Christ. The Vikings too practiced the same by laying emphasis of their female deities and the forces of motherhood around Yule (Kvilhaug, 2012, Vinje 2014).
Honoring the Sun.
The Yule marked rebirth of the sun. During the festive season, the Vikings could make large wheels of pine and light them of fire. They could then roll them down a hill in honor of the sun. The round shape of the wreaths also symbolised the cyclical nature of the sun and also served as a reflection of Norse conception of time.
Light and Blessings.
Yule was celebrated during winter and Vikings were looking forward to see the New Year which would bring light, new beginning, and blessings. They would burn large oak logs which burned long and hot throughout the night providing them with warmth and light.
Christmas and New Year celebration are the two events where drinking becomes the order of the day. It is morally acceptable in the society and a form of bringing old friends together. The Vikings celebrated Yule with nights of drinking meads from longhorns. Some would prefer to drink it from the skulls of their enemies.
Since Yule was a holiday of worship, the Vikings decorated trees with food gifts and small carvings to honor their deities. Similarly, lighting of candles is one of the practices for celebrating Christmas which was not documented until in the 19th century but most probably, the Vikings had a better sense of the same.
In a nutshell, holidays are occasions that give us the chance to honour the traditions of our ancestors. These traditions often come in blended forms. This blending of forms is often times referred to as syncretism. In syncretism, people who live together and tend to have a mutual practice that brings them together, accentuate the similarities in their religion, cultures or ideologies and ignore their differences. The Vikings were very good at that and that is the reason why they were able to live peacefully amongst each other.
We can never get to clearly fathom where some practices originated from since there are many ideologies trying to explain one but the same thing. The most important point is what holidays means to us. These sacred seasons should act to strengthen the bonds with our loved ones. We should also extend our bonds to other people in appreciation that we are all one as humans. Holidays should also be utilized to bring more light in our societies where people sit together, share their ideas, experiences and come up with solutions to matters which would rather be hard to be solved by a single person.