From Santa to Shaman - The indestructible memory of an ancient paedophile
By: M. de Jong
Whoever thinks of Christmas, automatically thinks of Santa Claus. There will be very few who actually know Santa has absolutely nothing to do with the birth of Jesus Christ. And what to think of the 'Christmas symbols' like the Christmas trees with their red ribbons, balls and candles? In fact these things, of course, have nothing to do with the Christian faith, but were incorporated into the holiday for another reason.
When we think about it shortly we quickly conclude that we do know the origin of Santa, 'Santa Claus' is a bastardized version of Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas)! Fortunately much is still known on how this transformation came to be. Santa Claus was not invented, as many American people think, by Clement C. Moore (the author of the poem "A Visit from Saint Nicholas", with the well-known opening line "Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house...") but Sinterklaas was reborn in a different way, in the year 1626 when a ship of Dutch pioneers arrived in America and founded the colony New Amsterdam. The figurehead of their vessel was Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors. It wasn't 30 years later when the English bought the new colony and dubbed it New York. A hundred and fifty years later it was just a memory when the American essayist Washington Irving mentioned the living legend of Saint Nicholas in his "Knickerbocker History of New York," and with that spurred the revival of Santa Claus. By christening him further and making him 'politically correct', he created the image of the pipe-smoking sailor in his (then) green winter jacket, accompanied by his 'elves' (the slave Moors were too politically incorrect), and his winter reindeers (which, by the way, don't carry antlers in winter...). The date was also adjusted to be closer to the holiday of Christmas to better fit the Christian faith.
What was to remain was the jolly old guy who both scared children and brought them presents and love. Later Santa Claus was commercialized, which is particularly evident from the change in costume to the red and white clothing, the Coca Cola colours, a direct result of commercials with a Cola drinking, dressed in red Santa Claus with which Coca Cola found their way around their prohibition to make commercials focused on children (because of their Cocaine reputation).
But back to Santa Claus, what's with the Christmas tree?
The official version is, of course, that Sinterklaas is the legend of the Christian Saint who lived in Spain (or Turkey) and performed several miracles, among which the bringing back to life of dead, torn to pieces, pickled children. We all know these stories (in which Sinterklaas strangely has no helpers). However, in 1970 the Vatican admitted that this legendary figure (or figures) never really existed. No, the true background lies much deeper buried and farther in history. When the Christian faith was finally getting a grip on our Northern lands they discovered a population which worshipped a multitude of Gods, for every aspect in life they had a Deity. They had the hardest time converting these people, and were forced to claim or destroy the people's Holy Sites. These people had a religion based on nature, and worshipped, for example, Holy Trees. The Christian church cut down these trees but found to be forced to compromise and include much of the heathen customs into a christened version. One of the most popular Gods was the God of hookers, sailors and children. This was assimilated into the fictitious "bishop of Maria", which from then on was to be worshiped instead and this way it preserved the above described group of people to the Christian cause.
Another winter custom that was to be claimed was the celebration of "the returning tree" in which a priest or shaman wearing a green cloak with white decorations and a cone-shaped hat, held a procession with a tree dressed with coloured lights.
This shaman also preceded over the worship of the previously mentioned Gods. One of these Gods was depicted as a figure clad in animal fur wearing antlers and had a rod in his hand. It was the ancient God Herme or Pan, and was basically a representative of shamanism itself. He was assisted by his black helper who was known for his bouts and tricks. The helper was especially known for his role as 'boogieman' with which to scare children. It strongly looks as though this helper was the original model for the Zwarte Pieten, and his many other appearances as "Swarthy" in Germany or as "Robin Goodfellow" as he was known in England. By the way, the creation of the current Zwarte Piet is probably thanks to the Dutch aversion of the Spanish invaders and their Moor helpers. Making these Moors into Sinterklaas his 'slaves' was probably a subtle revenge. That is why Zwarte Pieten still walk dressed in their original Moor dresses.
So in fact Sinterklaas/Santa Claus is a collection of distorted memories from all this ancient religious symbolism. However, what is behind this symbolism nowadays? It is clear that the symbols are of the return to spring after winter and the midwinter, winter solstice or "Jule". But shamanism itself, as well. Apparently the shaman played a very special role in the life of children, who received special attention and gifts from him, but who were also afraid of his 'black helper'.
Concerning the Christmas tree and its lights, there are clues telling us that during the midwinter gatherings of the hunter/gatherers from the primeval times people (all folk from the surrounding communities) went hunting together, after which a large feast was held where there was a ceremonial slaughtering of the animals. After that there would be a large "give the fire back to the Gods" -ceremony to commemorate the gift of fire, from the Gods to man (this gift was in fact lightning striking a tree and so igniting it, supposedly it's the original way humans got their hands on fire). The ceremony involved hanging the intestines as well as several organs such as the heart, liver etc., in a tree and then igniting that tree. The ribbons, balls and candles we decorate our Christmas tree with are a memory of that ceremony.
The organization and leading of this ceremony was one of the main tasks of the shaman. Another could have been to watch over the children while their parents were off hunting (men) and gathering (women), which meant they left the settlement for up to several days, and to protect them from enemy raids, but also the care of the (sexual?) initiation rites of these youngsters.
Shaman was not something you could just decide to become. An older shaman would look for a pupil of which he expected to have a predisposition to be able to adapt to a live where he would not join the other boys in their hunting trips, and who would have the mental and spiritual capacities to become a good shaman. Beneath that he'd have to have the will to spend time with the (smallest) children he would be left to watch over. This young helper might be the 'black helper' from the tradition, who with his young tricks frightened these young children. This makes it not unthinkable that for this post, a special person was selected with traits we would nowadays ascribe to someone we would call a paedophile. Of course any evidence for this theory remains lost in the shrouds of history, but just perhaps, Sinterklaas, the friend of children, is indeed a memory of an ancient paedophile.
source: Article 'From Santa to Shaman - The indestructible memory of an ancient paedophile' by M. de Jong; Translated by: D.A. Becker; Original title: 'Van Kerstman tot shamaan - De onuitroeibare herinnering aan een oerpedofiel'; OK Magazine, no. 88; December 2003