The Yule Wish Tree


Talk by Rel Davis, minister of the Unitarian Fellowship of South Florida, 1812 Roosevelt Street, Hollywood, Florida 33020,

December 18, 1993.

The festival of Christmas has always been a controversial one in Christianity.  The Puritans banned Christmas altogether and during the Cromwellian period in England, anyone celebrating Christmas was jailed for heresy. Probably the most hated of all Puritan laws was the one > abolishing Christmas and probably led to popular acceptance of royalty -- at least the king allowed the masses to celebrate Yule!

In America, Christmas was generally outlawed until the end of the last century.  In Boston, up to 1870, anyone missing work on Christmas Day would be fired.  Factory owners customarily required employees to come to work at 5 a.m. on Christmas -- to insure they wouldn't have time to go to church that day.  And any student who failed to go to school on December 25 would be expelled.

 Only the arrival of large numbers of Irish and northern European immigrants brought acceptance of Christmas in this country. Even today, large segments of the fundamentalist movement oppose Christmas as a pagan holiday.  In some homes, Santa Claus is called "Satan Claus" and St. Nick is considered to be identical with Old Nick. So who is this Santa Claus character who is really the main emblem of Christmas?  The Church says that Santa Claus is nothing but Saint Nicholas, an austere bishop of Asia Minor who lived in the fourth century.  There are two stories about Nicholas.  One, the expurgated version taught by the modern church, and the other, the colorful one taught by early Christians.  Let's look at the modern version first. Nicholas was born into a rich family in the city of Parara but his parents died while he was only a child.  He was raised an orphan and became a priest.

  When he did so he gave all his possessions to the poor, and especially to orphans.  He made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and on the way a storm threatened to swamp his ship.  He prayed and the storm was calmed.  He is now patron saint of some sailors. When he returned he was elected bishop of Myra.

  Under Diocletian he was imprisoned but freed under the Emperor Constantine. That's the story.  According to the church, his feast day of December 5 was transferred to Christmas by the Dutch, who called him Sinter Klaus.

The older story is a lot juicier.  In reality, of course, there is no historical record of a "Nicholas" ever having been born.  The story went that he was born a saint, fasting even as an infant.  They said he would only take his mother's breast on Wednesdays and Fridays. According to the stories, he became a bishop because his predecessor predicted it in a dream, and he was the first person to enter the church the next day. He was said to bring back the dead from a magic cauldron. He could stop any storm at sea by ordering it to calm.  He miraculously multiplied a shipment of grain so it could feed his entire diocese for two years, with enough left over for a new crop of grain.  When he died, his bones exuded a huge quantity of holy oil capable of curing any known disease. One of his most famous acts of charity was the throwing of money through open windows to provide dowries for unmarried women.  He really did not like spinsters and believed all women should accept the slavery of lawful marriage!

One group of Christians followed Nicholas' teachings.  They were a gnostic sect called the Nicolaites who believed that the only way to salvation was through frequent intercourse between the sexes.  Though they were brutally suppressed by other Christians, they recognized Nicholas, and his cauldron of regeneration, as a pagan fertility god.

In fact, Nicholas was nothing but the ancient Roman God Poseidon in new guise.  Poseidon was the god of the sea, possessor of a magic cauldron and capable of calming the sea with his voice. The Teutonic equivalent was called Hold Nickar, king of the nixies.  A nixy was a sea nymph, like a mermaid or water fairy.  He was the Danish sea-god.

  The English called him Old Nick and when the Europeans brought their "St. Nicholas" to England, they instantly recognized him as their own. By the way, the symbol of St. Nicholas in the church is either a phallus in a yoni (the older symbol) or three golden balls (later the symbol of the Medici family and now of pawnbrokers). Both of these are ancient fertility symbols. Today, we think of Old Nick as synonymous with the devil, the Christian anti-Christ.  Old Nick is a bad guy.  His alter ego, St. Nick, however, is a good guy.

Let's get back to Santa Claus, or Sinter Klaus, the real hero of Christmas. Christian scholars claim that the Dutch "Sinter Klaus" was really Saint Nicholas, and that "Sinter" is Dutch for "saint."  

Well, don't you believe it.  The best evidence is that the term was originally "Klaus of the cinders," that is, the man from the chimney.  This explains the color of his clothing (red and white, the color of fire.) The Dutch really weren't so stupid as to confuse December 5 (St. Nicholas' day) with December 25 (Yule).  Santa Claus never was St. Nicholas.

So who was he?

Let me quote from a nineteenth century book on nordic mythology, H.A. Grueber's Myths of Northern Lands, published in 1895.

 He wrote:

Thor was the god of the peasants and the common people. He was represented as an elderly may, jovial and friendly, of heavy build, with a long white beard. His element was the fire, his color red.  The rumble and roar of thunder were said to be caused by the rolling of his chariot, for he alone among the gods never rode on horseback but drove in a chariot drawn by two white goats (called Cracker and Gnasher).  He was fighting the giants of ice and snow, and thus became the Yule-god. He was said to live in the "Northland" where he had his palace among icebergs.  By our pagan forefathers he was considered as the cheerful and friendly god, never harming the humans but rather helping and protecting them. The fireplace in every home was especially sacred to him, and he was said to come down through the chimney into his element, the fire.

Every Yule, the good god Thor would visit every home with an altar to him (i.e., every home with a fireplace!) and bring gifts to children, who would put out their sabots (wooden shoes) the night before.  Good children would receive gifts of fruit, candy and pieces of coal to burn in the fireplace.

He had another name to the ancients, Kris Kringle, Christ of the Wheel.  This was his name as solar deity, reborn at the winter solstice, as the wheel (yule) of the sun turned slowly around. Again, the church pretends that Kris Kringle is the germanic statement, Kristkind (Christ-child).  

But if that is true, why has it always applied to Santa Claus, and not to the baby?

Yule was a time of feasting and celebrating the eventual end of the winter.

  The word Yul meant wheel and the day of Yule was the first day the sun visibly turned in its long drop toward the horizon, the day the sun-wheel turned. The month of December was also called Yule, but it was a different word, the word Geol or feast.  December was a month of feasting to our ancestors.

The aspects of Yule or Christmas are all of pagan origin. The mistletoe (banned by the early church, by the way) was an ancient symbol of rebirth, being associated with the menstrual blood of the mother.  Traditionally, couples "kissing" or making love under the mistletoe would have a child of their own in the coming year.  Later, the mistletoe was symbolic of engagement.

The holly was also sacred, maintaining its greenness on the sacred oak.  It symbolized eternal life. The fir tree was the ancient grove of the Goddess brought into the house.  We call it a Christmas tree, but the Germans use the old word, tannenbaum, literally "fir tree."

Gift-giving, feasting, burning the yule-log, displaying circular wreaths (symbol of the sun's wheel), and singing carols (literally, "dances"!) are all of pagan origin.

Even the creche, the manger scene, is of traditional origin, for this was always the season for the birth of the child-god.  The infant surrounded by adoring gods (wearing the halo or sun-symbol on their heads) predated Christianity by many thousands of years as well.

Baal was honored by similar scenes in ancient Palestine. Osiris in Egypt.

Even the Biblical story of the birth of Jesus was borrowed unashamedly from ancient tales.  Clouds of singing angels, the virgin birth, even the obligatory flight of the small child and the death of other infants -- all occurred in similar tales long before.

There is really very little in Christmas that would not have felt completely comfortable to our pagan ancestors.  Just remember when you sing the carols that the "virgin mother" is nothing less than the primal queen of heaven:

 Mariamne, mother of god; Aphrodite-Mari, mother of the ocean foam; Stella Maris, Isis' name as Star of the Sea; Maya, the oriental mother of the savior, and all the other forms of the ancient goddess. Worried about the name of the holiday, Christmas? The Mass of Christ.  That's an ancient term as well.  Christ merely meant "the anointed one" and originally referred to the oiling of the god's phallus before intercourse.  "Thou anointest my head with oil" had an altogether different meaning than today's theologians like to admit! A Christ was anyone who had been treated with oil -- usually a god. And the word "mass" is also pagan in origin.  The Latin word is missa and was derived from the Persian word mizd, which was the communion cake used in Mithraic ritual.  The mizd cake was said to contain the divine flesh and blood of the sacred bull-god sacrificed by Mithra. (Mithra, by the way, was born on December 25, of a virgin. His birth was witnessed by shepherds and magicians [magi]. Mithra raised the dead and healed the sick and cast out demons.  He returned to heaven at the spring equinox and before doing so had a last supper with his 12 disciples [the 12 signs of the zodiac], eating mizd, a piece of bread marked with a cross [the symbol of the sun].  Any of that sound familiar?) So Christmas is simply the "bread feast of the anointed god's phallus."

  Pretty darned pagan, wouldn't you say?

The yuletide is a time of peace.  Of joy.  Of giving to others.  It's a beautiful old holiday that Christianity has never quite been able to stamp out.

Submitted by: Hecate She-Ra Bast

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