It seems there is a video from Prof. Jackson Crawford regarding Santa not being representative of Odin.
In some ways he is correct. Because Santa Claus and the many myths that surround the Christmas time aren’t just about Odin, instead they are amalgamation of various Norse and other Indo-European culture. (Along with some original Christian and near east concepts.) Especially given the Germanic Northern and Western influence on the Santa myth, which is the primary influence in the North American concept, one can begin to understand how Santa is both various Christian Saints and Pagan concepts merged together.
So, in this post I am going to list a few of the rather Pagan connections to Christianity.
First I will address some of Prof. Crawford’s points.
1. Sleipnir has 8 Legs and Santa has 8 reindeer: First he debunks this arbitrarily. Obviously 8 Legs don’t equal to 8 different beings. But I suppose he hasn’t heard of allegory before. Also when two of the Reindeer are called Donner and Blitzen (Thunder and Lightning) it is a connection to Thor (Donar = Thunor). Yes the eight reindeer are a newer addition as he used to have 1 and sometimes more than one that pulled his sleigh. What he doesn’t do is delve into the various connections to the Wild Hunt. Jacob Grimm popularized the term Wilde Jagd (“Wild Hunt”) and wrote about it in his Deutsche Mythologie (1835) as proof of surviving Germanic Pagan beliefs. The Wild hunt is thought to ride through the clouds or mist, in the night sky and claim lost souls. Often they would be appeased by offerings. Much like leaving offerings for Santa and his reindeers. Other figures aside from Odin that were euhemerized into the tradition were Theodoric the Great, Angel Gabriel, the Devil, Charlemagne, or the welsh Gwyn ap Nudd. Those who were associated as hunters accompanying their leader were usually the spirits of the dead, who either returned or arose with his passing by, the Fae, or Elves and sometimes Valkyries or Psychopomps. If you haven’t noticed the theme is that of death and passing as well as one’s ancestors as Fae or Elves (Alf) are ancestral spirits. Often the Death of the year or the sun is seen in Winter (Baldr’s death for example). No this isn’t inherently an Odinic concept but one can see that it is connected to the Old world and both Paganism and folklore in general.
2. Santa wears Red but Odin wears Blue, Grey, or spotted clothing: Yes, but he also is said to take various disguises. Santa also doesn’t always wear read. He has been depicted wearing blue or white in many cases especially in Slavic regions. It is true that Santa is depicted often more akin to his Saintly / religious priest clothing in various European countries, especially down south. No one will say for sure where the Red suit and a rather Phrygian cap as well as the Holly and pipe come from originally. However, I will state that they are rather Scythian in design. The cap, the buttoned-up suite, and pipe are very akin to various groups in the Steppe lands and Persian cultural influences. Artwork of Odin has often included a smoking pip as well and one can see within Tolkien’s Odinic figure of Gandalf (Wand Elf) that pipe smoking fits the motif. As for the Holly there are a lot of Euhemerized concepts of Holly which can imply a Christian allegory but also the concept of the Greenman of folklore or the Mistletoe of Baldr’s death.
3. Odin is not a figure associated with gifts: This is accurate as long as one is speaking of gifts in the method of Santa, however, to say providing offering to the Gods or Odin for blessings or a boon in return is very much within Pagan belief. Being naughty or nice could be implying being pious and serving the Gods. This may be a much more Christian aspect of Santa but one implying that Odin or the Sky father does not provide blessing or providence over mankind would be a gross misunderstanding. Yes, in the Saga’s and Eddas Odin isn’t overtly kind or selflessly giving, but that shouldn’t be interpreted as “evil” or a lack of any empathy for mankind as Odin is concerned primarily with the balance of Order and Chaos. Also Santa’s helpers such as Black Pete, or his counter part such as Krampus haven’t been always been represented as the most kind and benevolent beings.
4. Odin is associated with winter solstice holiday of Jól or Yule which is the Proto-Germanic word *jehwlą meaning Joke or to play (Joy) but has also been considered to possibly be connected to a word for wheel like the turning of the year. Odin is called the Jólnir (the Yuler) as Prof. Crawford points out. Also, often you hear the word Yule Father from time to time. This is, in my opinion, in direct correlation to where the association of Father Christmas would come into play.
In addition to the point he mentions I’ll go into a few other points. The three “Kings” of Christianity are Magi (Singular Magus) or Magoi of Persian religion. Their seeking of Christ and divining his arrival via the stars is a direct attempt to merge Indo-European faith and divine son / God-King worship with that of the Hebraic Messiah. Meanwhile, there is plenty of scholarly speculation of Mithraic connections to this worship as well. The Magi had their own cultic following within Christian mysticism and in the esoteric alchemical practices. You will sometimes still see an adoration of the tree Magi almost as much as one would of the Christ child. Though it is not needed to be mentioned here, as I have mentioned ad nauseum, The Sky Father, divine or holy mother, and God or Demi-God son is a pan-Indo-European and even near eastern motif. The tale of the Angel coming to the pasture to inform the Shepard’s of Christ’s arrival is very similar to the visit of the Goddess to the Shepard in Hesiod’s Theogony where they tell him of the lineage of the Gods as well as the creation story. On a sidenote many of the Christian intepretation of myths or understanding of the cosmos is directly comparable to that of the Theogony.
These aren’t the only connection that Christianity has to Pagan religions, especially regarding Holy Days (Holidays) as a whole article could be written about Saturnalia alone. Nor is this even a full encompassing article on all of the various details and local folklore that is associated with Yule (the Yule Goat for instance).
In Regards to Mr. Crawford. He is a linguist and historian. His translations are good. However, too many Pagans who follow him like he knows everything because he knows more about language and history than they do so They flock to him regarding religion, which he isn’t an authority on. This is not an insult to a man who understands Indo-European languages rather well and should be learned from for Old Norse information. It is a statement that one should not look towards one linguistic “Scholar” as a bastion of all knowledge of on their own heritage or on Indo-European spirituality. Authorities are good to refer to, but should be cross examined. Do not let one person’s conclusions rule what you believe without doing more digging as well.
It can be easily mentioned here that Euhemerism, attempts at conversation, the Germanization of Christianity, and merging of faiths it was results in this Odinic and general Pagan+Christian appeal that Christmas and Yule have. While much of the modern additions, such as Misses Claus, Elves, Candy, Coca-Cola, and various other elements are often added for product placement or joyous myth creation from the Americas, it doesn’t change the source of these myths being that of a predominately Germanic origin.
In conclusion we can say, Odin is as much Santa as Santa is Saint Nicholas, and that Christmas is as Pagan as Yule is Christian.
I hope you found this article enjoyable and enlightening regardless of the faith you practice.
In this current climate where all holidays are being threatened, it is good for us to enjoy the practice of our heritage and embrace a sense of spirituality and joy during the holidays.
Hammer and Vajra
Written by Zachary Gill 23 December 2020
P.S This of course isn’t even delving into the Slavic beliefs or Orthodoxy Christianity’s intepretation of Santa Claus.
Link to Crawford’s original video if you are interested in the points I am mentioning.