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Internet Book of Shadows, (Various Authors), [1999], at

                              TANE JACKSON
 Christmas has two distinct themes running through it, as study of any
 collection of Christmas cards shows. One is the religious aspect,
 involving Wise  Men, angels, the Star and shepherds, and refers to
 the Gospel story of the birth of Christ. The other theme seems totally
 unrelated and depicts reindeer, stockings, a sleigh and, of course,
 Santa Claus.
 The two main Christmas personalities are Jesus and Santa, as most people
 will agree. Everyone brought up in a Christian country knows the
 significance of Jesus at this time but just who is Father Christmas and
 why should he become  part  of  a  religious festival?
     We must first look back at history and see why December became  such 
 an  important month in the religious calendar in the first place. The
 reason is, of course,  the  Winter  Solstice, December 21st, when the
 Sun appears to stop in the sky prior to beginning its journey back
 across the heavens.
     After the Solstice the days gradually  get  longer  and  the peoples
 of old considered this to be almost the birthday of the Sun. The peoples
 of the northern hemisphere were fond of having a festival in mid-winter,
 perhaps because they needed something to take their minds off the long,
 cold, dark days.
     In ancient Rome the feast of Saturnalia  was  held  between December
 17th and 23rd and gifts   were   exchanged.   The Romans also held the
 feast of Brumalia on the Solstice day itself and considered this to be
 the birthday of Mithra the unconquered Sun god. The Norsemen celebrated
 Yule at this time, to herald the return of the Sun.
     It is interesting to note that Christ is often known as the Light of
 the World, a title that continues this theme of darkness in retreat in
 the face of good.
     The Solstice has long been associated with the idea of people giving
 each other presents. Apart from giving gifts at Saturnalia the Romans
 also exchanged presents on the feast of the Kalends, which we call New
 Year's Day.  These customs prevailed all over the Roman Empire when
 Christianity was still a new religion.
     When Christianity spread to the northern lands they found the
 Norsemen worshipping Odin--who rode his chariot through the night sky at
 the time of the Winter Solstice, handing out gifts.
     Because the exchange of gifts was so linked in the pagan mind with
 these old festivals devout Christians were not supposed to exchange 
 gifts  at  this  time.  However,  gift-exchange  never died out on the
 European scene and finally the Church fathers had to do something about
 it.  They did not want to let people keep on believing that Odin or any
 other pagan deity had anything to do with gift-bringing so they looked
 around for an acceptable Christian figure to bring them instead. The
 person they chose  was  St  Nicholas,  the former Bishop of Myra in the
 4th century AD.
     Not much is actually known about St Nicholas, though many legends
 grew up around his kind ly figure. One thing that qualified him for the
 role of gift-bringer was his feast day being December 6th, a date
 sufficiently close to the Solstice for the two to be connected in the
 mass mind.
     St Nicholas was a useful saint and could even be described as
 all-purpose.  His responsibilities included the welfare of pawn-
 brokers, boatmen, parish clerks, dockers   and   barrel-makers among
 others. He was the patron saint of both Russia and Aberdeen.  The 
 best-known  story about him tells of his leaving three bags of gold on
 a poor man's windowsill as dowries for his three daughters. One version
 of this tale states that the gold was thrown through the window and
 landed in a stocking that had been hung up to dry, which perhaps
 explains our custom of the Christmas stocking.

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