Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Santa's Alter Egos

One of the charms of any feast day that lasts over the centuries is its intermingling with other mythologies.  When you feel too sorry for Santa Klaus and all his work on christmas eve, you can rest easy.  he has dozens of comrades, some well known, some less so.  time and space allow me to touch only on a few here, but they are a few i'm very fond of.

One, though his identity has been appropriated by Santa claus over the years, is the German Kris Kringle.   but chris was originally  a far worthier saint than our jolly red giant, or even than the good Dutch bishop sinter klaas who comes by ship from spain to the netherlands.  Kris kringle translates to Christ Child; the boy we worship is himself the giver of gifts to the rest of us.  which makes sense, when you remember that in christian mythology the reason the boy was  born was to give us the greatest gift of all--his life, in redemption for our sins.

the gift givers have never been an all-boys' club.  in the cold Scandinavian countries, it is Saint Lucia who brings light to us, quite literally--she wears a crown of lit candles as she makes her rounds.  two interesting, obviously interconnected female givers , are the russian babushka and the northern italian bafana, though bafana seems to be the older of the two.  in each case, she was approached by the three kings taking a shelter break from their star-following, and offered them hospitality.  in turn, they suggested shes come with them to meet the new child- king of the world.  but she was too busy with her housework, and decided to wait. by the time she was ready, they were long gone and the star had disappeared.  so every year, she travels the world with gifts for the christ-child, and, failing to find him, gives the gifts to other children.

i like the idea of the woman punished for taking housework too seriously and who gets a marvelous fling around the world once a year.  but more, i like the idea that different peoples from different countries and backgrounds have Incorporated the idea that children deserve gifts and special treatment once a year at least.  and that these ideas began long before consumerism took them over, out of a notion of pure love for a pure, poor child.  if the world survives its frantic rush to self destruction, i hope these gift givers survive with it.  we will need all the comfort and joy possible.

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