By: Najla Banimalek, Staff Reporter, The Pawprint
Before Christmas celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ, it was originally reserved to celebrate the winter solstice, or “Yule”. This holiday was celebrated by the Germanic peoples, and other various northern Europeans.
Started by the pagans, Yule was associated with the god Odin, and the wild hunt. It was an event that was believed to occur during the yule season, when ghostly horsemen would take people to the underworld, and to foreshadow catastrophic events that would occur in the future. People would keep a lit log at the fireplace all throughout the night, and this was believed to keep everyone safe from the horsemen of the wild hunt.
Rather than having a specific day of celebration, yule lasted from around the 21st of December until the 1st of January. Because of the tilt of the earth at this time, the winter solstice had the shortest days of the year. This is meant to represent the balance between light and dark, in correlation to the summer solstice, which had the longest days of the year.
Because the celebration of Yule is a time of reflection, people often gathered with their families to celebrate the end of the cold winter season, as spring would come soon after the solstice. This is what created the modern idea of gift giving during Christmas and having a big family feast. The spread of Christianity soon took the pagan winter solstice and also related it to the celebration of Jesus’ birthday.
St Nicholas, a monk born in modern day Turkey, was the iconic figure that created the legend of Santa Claus. Nicholas was known to be very generous, by always helping the poor and needy, while also protecting children from harm. He died on December 6th, and people would commemorate him by having a large feast on that day.
His influence spread and he became a very well known saint in Europe, with mainly Dutch people commemorating his death day and renaming him Sinter Klaas. Towards the end of the 18th century, Klaas spread to modern American culture, where he was renamed Santa Claus.