Sinterklaas is a mythical figure with legendary, historical and folkloric origins based on Saint Nicholas and is the primary source of the popular Christmas icon of Santa Claus. Sinterklaas is an elderly, stately and serious man with white hair and a long, full beard. He wears a long red cape or chasuble over a traditional white bishop’s alb and sometimes red stola, dons a red mitre and ruby ring, and holds a gold-coloured crosier, a long ceremonial shepherd’s staff with a fancy curled top, and traditionally he rides a white horse. Zwarte Piet is a companion of Sinterklaas, usually portrayed by a man in blackface with black curly hair, dressed up like a 17th-century page in colourful attire, often sporting a lace collar and a feathered cap. Parallels have been drawn between the legend of Sinterklaas and the figure of Odin, who as King of the Norse Aesir was a major god among the Germanic peoples, and was worshipped throughout Northern and Western Europe prior to Christianization. Since some elements of the Sinterklaas celebration are unrelated to Christianity, there are theories regarding the pagan origins of various customs of the holiday stemming from areas where the Germanic peoples were Christianized and retained elements of their indigenous traditions, surviving in various forms into modern depictions of Sinterklaas. Non-Christian elements in Sinterklaas that arguably could have been of pagan origin include the fact that Sinterklaas rides the rooftops on his white horse (Odin rides the sky with his grey horse Sleipnir); Sinterklaas gives chocolate letters to children (like Odin gave the rune letters to mankind); Sinterklaas carries a staff and has mischievous helpers with black faces, who listen at chimneys to find out whether children are bad or good and report to Sinterklaas (Odin has a spear and his black ravens, Huginn and Muninn, who report what happens in the world to Odin).
There is something about the festive season that irresistibly brings ghosts to mind. Who can tell whether it is the wintery chill, the creeping mist or the inscrutable blanket of snow, but the period approaching Christmas seems inextricably bound with the supernatural. A traditional time for tales of unquiet spirits and the restless dead, the Yuletide season has inspired writers from Charles Dickens to M R James to write ghost stories either during or expressly set at Christmas. But is there perhaps more to this? Are these fictional ghostly tales actually based on real-life paranormal occurrences? There is no shortage of material to support such a conclusion – in Britain alone, there are spooky stories of things that go bump in the night each Christmas that span the length and breadth of the country. From spirits that roam the bleak North York Moors, to haunted houses in the garden of England, from ghastly deeds in the cobbled streets of old London town to dark legends of the highlands of Scotland, almost every region has its own chilling seasonal tales to recount. So, whilst everyone else is buying presents and preparing for Christmas parties, spare a thought for the more sinister side of the festive period and its very own Midwinter ghosts.
To celebrate the swift onset of Christmas (as well as the minor matter of the 150th post on Ghost Cities!) I thought I’d re-blog a selection of past festive posts that have appeared on this site for you all to enjoy. The blog is going on hiatus now until the New Year but I hope that this little collection will keep you amused until then.
Wishing a Merry (Scary) Christmas and New Year to everyone!
For most of us December is all about Christmas and over the coming month I intend to delve deep into the history, folklore and mythology concerning this time of year and the traditions associated with it. The winter festival of Yuletide, originally celebrated from late December to early January by early Teutonic tribes across Europe was the precursor of the Christian festival of Christmas. Whilst initially the festival was on a date determined by the phases of the moon, much like Easter still is, Yuletide was placed on December 25 when the Julian calendar was adopted. Other than the date and a few other superficial similarities, the pagan religious festival of Yule has little in common with Christmas. It was traditionally a time of sacrifice, when idols of heathen deities were sprinkled with blood, duels were fought and life was celebrated in the bleak midwinter. Scholars have also connected the celebration of Yule to the ancient folk myth of the Wild Hunt, in which a spectral group of huntsmen were said to be seen in mad pursuit across the skies.