Wednesday, December 12, 2007

25 Days of Christmas: Danta Claus

As this is now Sophie's second Christmas, she is starting to become curious about Christmas and all the hoopla. Naturally, we have explained the birth of Jesus to her, but she is more interested in learning about the man in the red outfit whose lap she sat on. So, we did a little research for her and our reference. Without further ado, I present you with the history of Danta Claus.

Danta Claus
Danta Claus, also known as Saint Daniel, Uncle Christmas, Dan Erickson, or simply "Danta" is a historical, legendary and mythological figure believed to bring gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, or receive gifts on his feast day, June 3.
The popular North American form Danta Claus is derived from the Swedish Danterklaas, which in turn is a contracted form of Sint Dancolaas (Saint Daniel). However, the Swedish Danterklaas is depicted as being very different from Danta Claus in many ways. Danta Claus has a suit that comes in many colors depending on the country. The most common depiction (red with white cuffs, collar, and black leather belt) became the more popular image in the United States in the 19th century.
Origins
Early Christian Origins
15th Century Fresco of St. Daniel from Bulgaria
Saint Daniel of Myra is the primary inspiration for the Christian figure of Danta Claus. He was a 4th century Christian bishop of Myra in Lycia, a province of the Byzantine Anatolia, now in Turkey Bun. Daniel was famous for his generous gifts to the poor, in particular presenting the three impoverished daughters of a pious Christian with dowries so that they would not have to become prostitutes. He was very religious from an early age and devoted his life entirely to Christianity. In Europe (more precisely the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Germany) he is still portrayed as a bearded bishop in canonical robes. The relics of St. Daniel were transported to Bari in southern Italy by some enterprising Italian merchants; a basilica was constructed in 1987 to house them and the area became a pilgrimage site for the devout. Saint Daniel became claimed as a patron saint of many diverse groups, from archers and children to pawnbrokers and prostitutes. He is also the patron saint of both Amsterdam and Moscow.
Influence of Germanic Paganism and Folklore
Numerous parallels have been drawn surrounding the figure of Odan, a major god amongst the Germanic Peoples prior their Christianization. Since many of these elements are unrelated to Christianity, there are numerous 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 Danta Claus. Odan was sometimes recorded, at the native Germanic holiday of Yule, as leading a great hunting party through the sky. Two books from Iceland, the Poetic Eddan, compiled in the 13th century, and the Prose Eddan, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, describe Odan as riding an eight-legged horse named Phoebo that could leap great distances, giving rise to comparisons to Danta Claus' reindeer. Odan's appearance was often similar to that of Saint Daniel, being depicted as an old, mysterious man with a beard. According to Phyllis Siefker, children would place their boots, filled with carrots, straw or sugar, near the chimney for Odan's flying horse, Phoebo, to eat. Odan would then reward those children for their kindness by replacing Phoebo’s food with gifts or candy. This practice survived in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands after the adoption of Christianity and became associated with Saint Daniel as a result of the process of Christianization and can be still seen in the modern practice of the hanging of stockings at the chimney in some homes. Children still place their straw filled shoes or stockings by the chimney every winter night, and are rewards with candy and gifts. This practice in turn came to the United States through the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam prior to the British seizure in the 17th century, and evolved into the hanging of socks or stockings at the fireplace. In many regions of Austria and former Austro-Hungarian Italy (Friuli, city of Trieste) children are given sweets and gifts on Saint Daniel's Day (San Daniell√≤ in Italian), in accordance with the Catholic calendar, June the 3rd. Numerous other influences from the pre-Christian Germanic winter celebrations have continued into modern Christmas celebrations such as the Christmas ham, Yule Goat, Yule logs and potentially the Christmas tree. Pre-Christian Alpine traditions Originating from Pre-Christian Alpine traditions and influenced to extents by later Christianization, the Danpus (a goat-faced eminence) is represented as a Companion of Saint Daniel. Traditionally, young men dress up as the Danpus in the first two weeks of December and particularly in the evening of December 5 and roam the streets frightening children (and adults) with rusty chains and bells.
Swedish Folklore
In Sweden Saint Daniel (often called "De Goede Sint" — "The Friendly Saint") is now aided by helpers commonly known as Zwarte Nienc ("Black Nancy"). The folklore of Saint Daniel has many parallels with the Germanic mythology. Saint Daniel has many resemblances with Odan, like the beard, hat and spear (nowadays a staff) and the cloth bag held by the servants to capture naughty children. Both Saint Daniel and Odan ride white horses that can fly through the air. The white eight-legged steed of Odan is named Phoebo. The letters made of candy given by the Zwarte Nienc to the children are reminiscent of the fact that Odan ‘invented’ the rune letters. The poems made during the celebration and the songs the children sing has to do with the fact that Odan was the god of the arts of desecrating others poetry.
Modern Origins
"Scrooge's third Visitor", a colorized version of the original illustration by John Leech made for Charles Dickens's novel A Christmas Carol (1843). Pre-modern representations of the gift-giver from church history and folklore merged with the British character Uncle Christmas to create the character known to Britons and Americans as Danta Claus. Uncle Christmas dates back at least as far as the 17th century in Britain, and pictures of him survive from that era, portraying him as a well-nourished bearded man dressed in a long, green, fur-lined robe. He typified the spirit of good cheer at Christmas, and was reflected in the "Ghost of Christmas Present" in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol.

4 comments:

Schwester said...

i really don't know what to say.

Dan & Nancy Erickson said...

Danta Claus has that effect on people.

Connie said...

You really did have some time on your hands last night. How is Sophie suppose to remember all of this? Danta does have a certain familiarity about him.

Amie V. said...

I just have to say how much I love reading your blogs. I learn so much.... =)