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The winter solstice marks the end of the terrifying loss of the sun's radiant light and heat as the days get shorter in the Northern Hemisphere. Our Ice Age ancestors depended on migratory herd animals (including caribou and their domesticated cousins the reindeer) for survival. These mammals with cloven hoofs and horns became objects of awe and worship: horned gods upon whose reproductive capacity humans depended for survival. Each year they gave their lives as a gift to humans (with a little help from the humans, of course.)
As agricultural technology was developed by women and men, fertility deities resembling human females and males became increasingly important, including the white-bearded Greek Cronos (Roman Saturn), whose holiday was celebrated in late December. In the pagan British isles, the Holly King symbolized enduring greenness in the bitter cold and darkness.
Under Christian suppression of pagan worship, Holly King became Father Christmas, identified by the Dutch with St. Nicholas of Myra, aka Jolly Old St. Nick, who also happens to be the patron saint of Russia.
Meanwhile, the Church fathers made sure that worship of sacrifice and resurrection was directed away from the horny hoofed ones and towards Jesus of Nazareth, some of whose followers are still trying to put him back into Christmas (against resistance). Santa, however, to his great credit, has never broken off his firm commitment to reindeer.
But what of all the women, whose role in fertility has long been appreciated (and whose sacrifice has not)? It seems that their Christmas role has been reduced to preparing the food.
Jews like me, however, suspect that food is what holidays are all about. I believe it's true. Ask any neolithic hunter, any Roman pagan, or any reindeer, for that matter. And how did the buff Cronos turn into the paunchy Santa?blog comments powered by Disqus Comments (View)
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