Santa Claus and Father Christmas
Lots of marvellous stories exist about Santa Claus. One of them particularly demonstrates his kindness and discrete generosity. According to this legend, he heard one day about three young and beautiful sisters who lived in the utmost destitution in the town outskirts. Rumour spread that they even tried to sell their charms to survive. Of course, Santa Claus could not leave these girls to this sad destiny. So, during a new moon night, he went quietly to the three young girl's house and threw three golden coin purses into the dwelling through the smoke hole used as chimney. In one of the versions, the three sisters thus provided with a dowry found suitable husbands and lived happy without mentioning if they had plenty of children...
Santa Claus certainly did not make a display of his generosity and walking discretely in the streets of the town, while wearing ecclesiastic clothes, must not have been easy. You have only to imagine him dressed in the Episcopal garment, topped by a mitre and holding a crook in his hand (see the picture below) to be aware of. These three symbols, easily recognizable as bishop attributes, are explained in the continuation of this article.
The Episcopal garment
The violet colour of the Episcopal garment is complementary to yellow (see the rainbow colour diagram). Lying opposite to yellow, colour of the passage between death to a state of being and re-birth into another (think to Easter), violet depicts the passage from life to death, a death to a state of being before springing up again or resuscitating into another. These two colours are related to both phases of a single cycle of death and re-birth. Under the violet colour, a transformation is acting which will give rise to a new re-birth and a new cycle. A very clear symbol around Christmas time.
With its pentagonal (5) form, the mitre symbolizes the union of Heaven (3) at the top and Earth (2) at the bottom. Indeed, the digit 1, associated with the mitre summit, is the number of the Being, the One, at the origin of the manifestation of everything. Digit 3, composed of 1 and 2, recalls the Unity and its polarization. Concerning digit 2 alone, it can only be related to Earth, the world of duality par excellence.
Composed of a straight long-stem ending in a spiral, the crook represents the descent path of the spiritual influence on Earth. The spiral vertex symbolizes the North celestial pole, the motionless point around which the vault stars are turning. The spiral depicts the circular descending movement of the celestial influence from the pole. Regarding the straight stem, it represents the pole axis or the “World Axis” connecting Heaven and Earth. For more details on this representation, consult the double spiral.
The crook recalls also the shepherd, the animal and soul guard, who uses his crook to bring back the lost sheep into the herd.
The presumed origins of Father Christmas
Santa Claus and its Episcopal attributes is the representative on earth of the spiritual authority, the light of which he is bestowing with kindness. When becoming generous, not only of good words, but also of little treats, he made a step towards the fairy world of children (and grown-ups). A new world of light, not exclusively spiritual or Christian, opened in front of the big store windows. New temples of the modern world overrun in December by a crowd in quest of gifts and a new father whose origins are lost in the night of the Nordic lands.
Some say that Father Christmas is coming from England, others that he originated in Germany and spread over Alsace and Lorraine. In fact, after the annexation of these two regions by Germany in1870, the migrants flowing in France took into their luggage the Christmas tree for the Alsatians and Santa Claus for the Lorraine.
Some people say that the Dutch, of Protestant faith and builders of the New Amsterdam, which later on became New York, transformed Santa Claus into a kind of Nordic magician living in the circumpolar regions. Others do not hesitate to assert that he is coming from Finland, where the village and the sledge pulled by reindeers is tourist godsend.
What can we draw from all that? That the reference to the hyperborean source should not be surprising. That a number of traditions have their sources there. That Father Christmas must have some connection with some old character of these isolated lands. Therefore, it is almost impossible to talk about Father Christmas without recalling an old Nordic figure whose legend seems to have been used as framework.
The God Thor
According to a Nordic legend, Thor crossed the skies in his chariot pulled by two rams. The sky resonates with his hammer bangs, which generate lightening. His green hammer produces the celestial fire. It had been made up by the red terrestrial and metallurgic fire of the dwarf Sindri 1. This double manifestation of the divine power, taking the appearance of celestial and terrestrial fires, is made in the image of both ram horns.
The image can also be found in the drawing of the hammer shaped as a Tau-cross and worn by the God's worshipers. The horizontal bar represents the Earth, the passive or feminine principle compared to the vertical associated with Heaven, the active or masculine principle. The last bar stops at the level of the former because the Heaven symbol has to be completely above the Earth one.
Moreover, both horizontal and vertical bars constitute the base and the height of a triangle, the lateral sides of which, drawn in solid lines, determine two directions starting from the same vertex and recalling the upper part of the bishop mitre. These two sides symbolize the manifestation of the One under its polarized or double form: terrestrial and celestial fire etc.
As the “Master of fire”, Thor has become the kind protector of homes, descending into the hearth through the chimney. An old custom said that a hammer laid close the chimney would protect the inhabitants from calamities.
From the association of two opposite and complementary colours, green and red, representing respectively the celestial and terrestrial fires, have emerged the Christmas tonalities.
The fact that Father Christmas goes down the chimney into the dwelling on the footprints of the God Thor should not surprise. Topped with a red bonnet or hood matching his costume and wearing a long snow coloured beard as well as a sack full of gifts on his back, he could only arouse wonder, at least in children eyes.
The white beard
White symbolizes faith, trust, innocence, the path of the heart, of the direct knowledge with no interference of the mind. Innocence corresponds to the total abandon in fairy tales, parabolas, myths, legends etc. It is the nature of the new born infant, playing child or adult who has succeeded in keeping its childish soul, especially at Christmas time. Innocence symbolizes the instant communication path with the Heavens.
The red costume
Let us remind ourselves that, in the past, Father Christmas was not wearing red clothes, but a brown garment recalling the monastic orders. To day, red represents firstly the colour of courage as he needs a lot of courage to visit, in one night, all the houses of the young and older sleeping heads. It is also the uppermost colour of the rainbow, which corresponds to the higher function of the visible or temporal order, the colour of the King. Whether you believe in it or not, Father Christmas is really, for one night, the King of children and ground ups. And above all, red is the colour of the fire which burns in...
The chimney is the symbol of the mysterious communication channels between Heavens and the beings. It is the channel used at the same time by the witches going to Sabbaths and Father Christmas dropping the presents. Its symbolism is related to the World Axis alongside which the celestial influences are descending and terrestrial influences are ascending. A communication axis between the worlds of the terrestrial and celestial fires.
The chimney is also the channel of the breath keeping the fire and the heat of the home, of the social group through the stories related by the parents to children and friends during the long old time winter evenings.
Following the Nordic legend, the Greek mythology makes Zeus (Jupiter), holder of the universal power, the God of thunderbolt as well. His attribute, the lightning weapon, was also built up by an underground fire, the fire of Hephaestus (Vulcan).
One day, while Zeus was playing with Amalthea, the she-goat who had suckled him, he accidentally broke one of her horns. As compensation, he promised that thereafter the horn would always be filled with all the fruit she would like. The horn with its mouth upwards and filled with presents of the Gods became the horn of plenty (“cornucopia”) and the emblem of many deities.
The broken horn means the end of duality proper to the human world and the access to the world of Unity, the end of sufferings linked to the being torments and the promise of finally knowing the peace of the mind. More commonly, it represents the abundance of gifts overflowing from the sack. In fact, the only real gift from Heaven is the ability to live out of the duality: beyond nostalgia and dreams, in the innocence of the eternal present (see the Christmas and Epiphany celebrations for more details).
- René Guénon:
- “The Great Triad”, South Asia Books Publisher;
- Notably chapters 3 on Heaven and Earth and 5 on the double spiral.
- Jean-Marie Pelt:
- “Flowers, feasts and seasons”, Fayard Publisher, 1988;
- In particular, chapter on Santa Claus.
1 back As a Christmas symbol, the evergreen tree absorbs carbon dioxide, which is transformed into oxygen through photosynthesis; absorbed by the animated living being, oxygen produces red blood in its turn. It follows that, in a way, green has taken precedence over red. In other words, the celestial fire can only be green in comparison with the red terrestrial fire.