February 5, 2023

Athens News

News in English from Greece

Did you know it? Santa Claus was not always kind


When Santa Claus appeared, what was his name before and where did the festive tree come from – about the gloomy progenitors of New Year’s traditions.

For some reason, many people believe that the New Year tree, fireworks and kind Santa Claus appeared in Soviet times. And, of course, they are deeply mistaken. The holiday came to Russia in the time of Peter the Great, and its main “identification marks” are the descendants of pagan rituals.

Santa Claus has come a long way before he became the usual good-natured person distributing gifts. It is worth remembering that in Slavic mythology, cold and frost, as well as other natural phenomena, were treated with a mixture of fear and reverence. The personification of the elements was a deity, which was presented in the legends in the form of an old man with a staff – it was this attribute that helped him control the frost and even take lives. And he had many names – Treskun, Frost, Zimnik, Karachun, Studenets.

The ancient Slavic God of cold, the Elder, who became the prototype of Santa Claus, was harsh, but not angry. To appease the Elder, who could make the winter snowy (for a good harvest), people baked pancakes and cooked kutya. The tradition took root, it was preserved even after the baptism of Rus’. And the stern old man began to “get better” in the 19th century, when the celebration of the New Year became very popular.

Russian writer Vladimir Odoevsky in 1841 published the book “Children’s Tales of Grandpa Iriney”. The main character there was the fair old man Moroz Ivanovich – a kind mentor and educator who encouraged virtue and punished vices. However, this was not yet our usual Santa Claus, and he had nothing to do with the New Year – the New Year tree came to Russia from the culture of Western Europe. However, at the end of the 19th century, Santa Claus and the Christmas tree became “one”.

Perhaps this happened against the backdrop of the popularity of holiday cards at that time. In the second half of the 19th century, everyone exchanged colorful postcards, and the subjects on them were borrowed from Europe. But Santa Claus did not become “his own” in Russia, he turned into Santa Claus.

Unfortunately, the good character of the New Year holidays did not last long – in the post-revolutionary period, he himself, and the New Year, and Christmas were recognized as “bourgeois”. “Revelations” of Santa Claus told about his dark past, associated with pagan obscurantism and sacrifice. The rehabilitation of the good grandfather did not follow soon – in 1935, at the initiative of Pavel Postyshev (Soviet statesman and party leader, party propagandist and publicist, one of the organizers, and then a victim of Stalinist repressions. After Stalin’s death, he was rehabilitated).

And what about the Christmas tree? The tradition of putting up Christmas trees or branches in the house was brought to Russia from Germany by Peter the Great, who was inspired by “the example of other Christian peoples.” However, after the death of the tsar, the decree was safely forgotten, and the tradition was revived only thanks to Alexandra Feodorovna, the wife of Nicholas I.

The New Year tree came to Germany itself from the Celts, who endowed nature, like all pagan tribes, with supernatural powers. At the same time, some tribes believed that spirits capable of sending a cold live on coniferous trees, and in the winter season these creatures are at the peak of their strength. Others – that the spirits living on an evergreen tree are responsible for life and prosperity. But all the tribes, in order to appease the spirits, hung various delicacies on the fir trees. So the tradition of decorating a Christmas tree came to Germany from the ancient Celts – it was decorated with nuts and candied apples. Later, the custom spread to neighboring countries, and then special bright toys made of glass, wax and cotton wool began to be used to decorate spruce.

Fireworks appeared in Rus’ also from Europe, in the XIV century. Europeans, in turn, borrowed fun from Asia and invented it in China. The main purpose of pyrotechnic products was to scare away evil spirits – with bright light and loud sounds.

Fire was an obligatory attribute of the winter solstice, ceremonies with it can be found in the history of every culture. For example, the ancient Slavs celebrated the winter solstice (on the night of December 21-22), which personified the onset of the new year. It was believed that after this night the Sun, weakened by the struggle with winter, awakens renewed and grows stronger. A mandatory attribute of the holiday was a ritual bonfire and burning wheels, which symbolized the solstice. At present, fireworks are an interesting and beautiful event, without which it is simply unthinkable New year’s night.



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