WRIGHT WAY: Holiday lights and ho, ho — huh?
Dec 01, 2010 | 5347 views | 0 0 comments | 66 66 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When I was a child the most enchanting thing about Christmas was the colorful array of lights that decorated the holiday season. The appeal of a fluffy, jolly old man who lived at the North Pole knowing whether I was bad or good also brought a sense of wonder to my winter wonderland.

Those displays of holiday lights combined with someone coming down the chimney with a bag of toys, however, were not as fascinating as the origin of those Christmas lights and who initially was on the rooftops of primitive little children.

For example, in his book “4,000 Years of Christmas,” Earl W. Count said, “The bright fires, the giving of presents, the merrymaking, the feasting, the processions with their lights and song — all these and more began in Mesopotamia three centuries before Christ was born.”

At first I could not understand how a celebration with such beautiful lights in honor of Jesus was already being performed by pagans centuries before Jesus was born. Can you?

In his book “The Story of Christmas,” Michael Harrison said, “It was apparently the fusion of two old customs; lights with evergreens, which gave us our modern Christmas tree.”

Regarding the celebration of Christmas, The Encyclopedia Americana said, “The celebration was not observed in the first centuries of the Christian church, since the Christian’s usage in general was to celebrate the death of remarkable persons rather than their birth ... a feast was established in memory of Jesus’ birth in the fourth century.

“Saturnalia, a Roman feast celebrated in mid-December provided the model for many of the merrymaking customs of Christians. From this celebration for example were derived elaborate feasting, the giving of gifts and the burning of candles.”

I had no idea the concept for festive lights originated in Babylon hundreds of years before Christ was born on earth, and I never imagined in my early days that the customs related to Christmas had their origin with pagan Romans. Did you?

As far as that jolly fat figure from the North Pole, dressed in red with a long beard, riding through the air on a chariot drawn by animals and coming down the chimney was concerned, he had another name ... Thor, the god of thunder.

In the book, “Holly, Reindeer, and Colored Lights, The Story of Christmas Symbols,” Edna Barth wrote, “Swedish children wait eagerly for Jultometen, a gnome whose sleigh is drawn by the Julbocker, the goats of the thunder god Thor. With his red suit and cap, and a bulging sack on his back, he looks much like the American Santa Claus.”

In the chapter, “Santa Claus and His Ancestors,” Barth says, “Thousands of years before Christ, the Scandinavian god Odin rode through the world at midwinter on this eight-footed horse, Sleipnir, bringing reward and punishment.

“His son, Thor, god of farming, thunder and war made his home in the far north. At the same season, the gentle German goddess Hertha descended with her gifts of good fortune and health.

“The Christian religion brought an end to such pagan gods, in form at least. Later, as St. Nicholas and Father Christmas, they reappeared in spirit.”

How these Norse gods “reappeared” in the form of an ancient bishop of the Catholic church and transformed into “Santa Claus,” remains a mystery. There is no question, however, that they bear a striking resemblance.

Mythologist Helene Adeline Guerber presented further similarities between Thor and Santa in the book “Myths of Northern Lands.” Not only was Thor’s color red but he was considered the Yule god who lived in the North Pole.

The fireplace was especially sacred to Thor and he came down the chimney into his element, fire. The trademark instrument of both Santa and Thor are their hammers.

“Thor was considered a preeminently benevolent deity and it was for that reason that he was so widely worshiped,” wrote Guerber. “People never failed to invoke him for a favorable year at Yule-tide, his principle festival.”

In Sweden, Thor is said to represent Santa Claus to this very day. In Belgium and the Netherlands they relate Odin, Thor’s father, with St. Nicholas. The Dutch Encyclopedia Oosthoeks said, “Saint Nicholas, who rides on the rooftops, is the pagan god Wodan (Odin).”

H. R. Ellis Davidson in “Scandinavian Mythology,” wrote, “It was Thor who in the last days of heathenism was regarded as the chief antagonist of Christ.”

While some Christians may believe Santa Claus and Thor continue to compete for a spotlight that belongs only to Christ, others see Santa as a harmless character for children to enjoy. What do you believe?

Jesus said at John 4:23, “The true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.”

I believe the light of truth is the most beautiful light we will ever see. Why? Because only the truth can set us free. That makes this eye-opening light a true gift from God.

*For a copy of The Little White Book of Light featuring more than 100 Wright Way columns, visit barnesandnoble.com, booksamillion.com and amazon.com.