A Greek Saint, A Psychedelic Mushroom And Pagan Gods. The Story of Santa Clause. (and the other Sant
Photo Courtesy of Margot Wolfs
How It All Started
It’s the Byzantine era and a Greek boy loses both of his parents in an epidemic. He inherits their enormous wealth and he doesn’t keep any of it but helps the needy in secret.
Gold coins are baked into bread and given to poor families, shoes left out at night get a couple of coins thrown in and as the most famous story goes, bags of gold are thrown into a home to save three sisters from being forced into slavery and prostitution.
This man who became a saint did amazing things with his money for anyone he could. That power, that energy for living in such a way amazed all of Byzantium. Churches in his name went up in the eastern and western parts of the Holy Roman Empire and spread along with Christianity to the rest of the world.
On this journey around the world St. Nicholas got rooted to all the cultures he touched.
The Saints Remains in His Homeland
When the Turks invaded Byzantium the Christians tried to save Saint Nicholas' remains from them. Many attempts were made for his remains but the Italians were the ones who finally recovered them.
The method? It is said that they surrounded the saints remains with pork to discourage the Turks who were Muslims and weren't allowed to even touch pork from taking the saints remains.
Since Asia Minor now fell to the Turks the saint could not remain in his home town because the Turks were destroying Churches and desecrating anything belonging to the Christians and the indigenous people (Greeks, Armenians, Assyrians, Kurds, etc...) of these lands. The Turks still to this day make attempts for the saints remains to be returned to Myra where the saint was said to want his final resting lace to be. Today though, a new discovery might mean that St. Nicholas' remains never left his homeland or at least most of his remains never left.
The Turks have been trying their best for years to publicize the Greek saints original homeland for tourist reasons. For a man who did so many good deeds for anyone around him it's a shame his actions and legend are being used in such a way.
He’s Starting to Look Like the Santa We Know Today
Byzantium occupied a large territory and since it was the Roman Empire it had a reach greater than the Middle East and Asia Minor. It wasn't just the Eastern Mediterranean either. Its influence went as far as Ireland. Because the main language of the Empire became Greek and because the culture was Hellenistic many people forget that it was still the Roman Empire. The schism didn't help and neither did Europe being in the dark ages after the fall of Rome in the homeland. This shift in the capital and the language still makes people think Rome ended when Rome was sacked. This means that even though New Rome was Constantinople it still managed to remain connected with all the old lands and thus any new information and just about any news from Constantinople reached all areas of the Empire, new and old. This included the story of Saint Nicholas of Myra.
His story reached every end of Europe where for example the German stories of Oden got mixed in with the story of Saint Nicholas. Sinterklaas is how the Dutch pronounced Saint Nicholas. His story got mixed with another gift giver who rode a horse.
The Shaman of Pre-Christian northern Europe and Siberia had a winter ritual that later also got mixed with the story of Saint Nicholas. The saints deeds were so well known and so appreciated that even the shaman's rituals were merged. And this is where it gets interesting.
These Siberian Shaman would dress up to look like these red and white hallucinogenic mushrooms that grew under evergreen trees. The magic mushroom (Amanita muscaria) produces DMT which makes you hallucinate. Interestingly enough DMT is also produced in the human pineal gland (the third eye, our view into the spiritual world) and therefore the mushrooms are used in various cultures religious traditions.
To go pick this mushroom the shaman dressed in red and white with fur on the trim. Sound familiar yet? As these “gifts” were picked from under the tree they were put to dry either on the tree itself or near a fire.
When the Shaman finished drying the mushrooms he would gather them in a bag and go off sharing them with the community. They lived in yurts which are basically huts and if it snowed a lot as it normally did he would need to get in through the yurts smoke hole.
The reindeer in the region would also love these mushrooms so they would also search for them. People would follow them just to find the mushrooms. When the reindeer ate this mushroom they would “prance” around from its influence.
In Ancient Times
Osiris rode a chariot from the far north (the North Pole and the chariot eventually turned into a sleigh). After his death, as the story goes, Isis discovered a full grown cedar. The cedar shows that Osiris was reborn and Egyptians celebrated his birth by placing presents all around a cedar tree. His birthday was December 25th.
Dionysus also rode a chariot and had titles like “savior”, sin bearer”, Alpha and Omega and he was son of the heavenly father. He was born on December 25th of a virgin and placed among beasts and was called the holy child.
A Second Santa?
In Greece even though St. Nicholas himself was a Greek he still did not become "Santa". Technically Greeks do not get presents on Christmas but on New Years which is also the feast day of St. Basil. Saint Basil is also Greek with a similar story of generous acts of gift giving. His homeland was Cappadocia which was also taken over by the Turks and therefore now part of Turkey. So to the Greeks and some other Orthodox Christians Saint Basil is the gift giving Santa Clause.
His generosity is known to both the Eastern and Western churches. In one story Saint Basil secretly took gold coins and other expensive objects like jewelry and baked them in bread. Passing out these loaves of bread to the needy without the knowledge of authority. Today Greeks cut what is called Vasilopita (a sweet bread) with a coin baked in it. Whomever gets the piece with the coin is said to have good luck the whole year. Also in Greece January 1st is when Carols are actually sung. Modern Greeks celebrate with both "Santas" but probably get gifts either on Christmas or New Years.
Coming to America
As the stories of St. Nicholas and a belief in him traveled the world other cultural traditions were incorporated into his legend. Not only culture but styles of dress and stories were added and eventually that all made its way to the new world.
He would go from Saint Nicholas to Sinterklaas to Santa Clause and from a Greek Bishop to European pagan and mythical figures to the Jolly old Saint Nick we know today.
However, the biggest problem that the saint faced and many foreigners still have to face even today is that as soon as he got to America he got fat.