thor

From L. Woodbridge, ‘Black and White and Red All Over: The Sonnet Mistress Amongst the Ndembu’, in Renaissance Quarterly, 40.2 (1987), pp. 247-97 at pp. 274-5

Moore did not create Santa but “crystalized popular notions of the visit of the gift bringer” (Barnett 27), and in doing so he took over the ritual colours, probably from the Dutch, whose St Nicholas (like Moore’s) comes down the chimney, a descent primarily responsible for the white and black in his color scheme: “His clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.”  Soot is an inevitable symbolic substance, completing a triad, in its blackness, with the red of fire and the white of ash: one thinks of blackened chimney sweeps in May ceremonies, and of the many blacked faces in folk festivities.  The chimney descent supports the theory that Santa is ultimately the Norse god Thor: The Norse god Odin, who rode a white horse or drove reindeer, may also have contributed to the Santa Claus legend] as Francis Weiser points out, Thor was represented with a long white beard; his colour was red, since his element was fire, into which he descended through chimneys.  His chariot was drawn by two white goats.  He became the Yule-god through battling against the giants of ice and snow; he lived in the northland among icebergs (113).  Moore’s St. Nick is a fire-spirit at least in his pipe-smoking: “The smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.”  Professor of Hebrew and Oriental languages at a theological college (Pimlott 115), Moore had the education to be aware of mythic antecedents of the Christmas figure he assembled.  Santa’s debt to Thor was spotted as early as 1872, when O. M. Spencer placed both figures in the context of seasonal fertility  rite: Thor battling the ice-giant is Spring’s eternal conflict with Winter.  The three ritual colors attached to St. Nicholas since the Middle Ages are appropriate to a figure rooted in the seasonal fertility rite.

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