It is a bit like asking if gravity or air are real, they are demonstrable, quantifiable, but I will grant you easily missed if you aren’t looking the right way, or look a mind that will not accept what the eyes perceive readily.
Odin is the god with the most kennings (use names, bynames, and aliases) of any god in any pantheon in history. One of them is Father Jul, the Yule Father to whom the Tree was raised, and offering given even when Christianity’s coming forced the tree to come indoors, or when Coke decided he needed to wear their colours to sell Coke at Christmas. The oldest name of Odin, like his associated rune, and his gift to man at creation are the same: inspiration.
God of war, god of poets, god of chieftains, yet the words that come to us from him are largely about gift giving, about relationship building, about hospitality. Line after line of the Victory Father’s words are not about killing, but about the how little you need to give to improve someone’s life. A gift for a gift he teaches us, often to share our hospitality with those that we care about, to gladden them with gifts, and mingle our thoughts with theirs.
The end of the Havamal mentions some spells known by the All-Wise, for Odin is nothing If not a magician, but the bulk of his work teaches us his most powerful spell, the spell of binding. With gifts and fair speech, with hospitality given and received, we build bridges between people, to bring them together in the heart of the dark, to bring them warmth in the heart of the cold, to bring them hope in the dying of the light.
Odin takes by-names to suit his purpose. When he went among the Jottuns to steal from them, he called himself Bolverk, or evil worker. When he comes among children to teach them how to reach out to each other and learn to become a family, a community, and a people, he was called Father Yule. When he came to a nation of immigrants who worshiped commerce, he called himself Santa Claus. What did he teach? What he always taught. A gift for a gift, the smallest thing can bring light into our lives, the smallest touch can turn aside the dark choices that wait for us in the killing cold. In the light it is easy to see who is beside us, but in the darkness you must reach out to know you are not alone. You must give voice in the silence, give song where whispers flourished. It is always a time of privation and need, we are still poorest at the Yuletide. We do not give because we can afford it, we give because we cannot afford not to. Wassail hard in the heart of the dark, the Yule Father teaches us to bring light into the darkness, to bring song into the silence, that we know we are not alone. The sun will return, the night will end. You are not alone.
In ancient times, Odin was not depicted as stalking mortals battle fields to fight for us. Instead, his presence was to inspire his warriors to wisdom and guile, to battle fury, to rise up to greatness. His gifts were inspiration; both creativity and passion. In ancient times the Yule father did the same, he inspired us to be creative and passionate; to see the ways we could reach out and brighten each others lives. His gift is the inspiration, and for that we honour him. His gift is the reminder and the teaching, and for this we follow him. He is Santa Claus, the the magic of giving, the joy of the innocent, the wonder of staring into the dark and not seeing a thing of fear, but endless wonder.
At the feet of the Ghost of Christmas Present; the most Pagan of a Christmas Carrol’s Yule figures, are ignorance and want. They shelter beneath the Yule Father’s robe because man has forgotten them. The Yule Father has not At this time he calls for us, in a time of privation and want to give to those who have less. We CANNOT afford to give, for we all fall short in these times of our own needs. We give anyways, because the what little you have, others have less. We do not understand each other, or even like each other, but we are in this world together. We reach out and give to those we do not know well, or understand, that they may at least know we care. We receive in return. How many of these darkest days were made bright by a little gift, a little gesture, a decoration, the bright lights burning in the dark, the sounds of joyous carols where normally angry music blares? Reciprocal gifting and hospitality turns strangers into friends, friends into kindred, and kindred into family. It old magic, strong magic. It is real, provable, visible, and everywhere.
My children were small once, and knew that Santa was real, he drove around in a sleigh (tracked by NATO on the computer) and gave presents to good girls and boys. He inspired them to give as well, and they filled the house with joy, the school, and the houses of the family and friends we visited. As they became older, they stopped simply receiving the magic, and became part of it. They began making or buying gifts to give to others “from Santa”. My daughters work as elves now to make money for their gift giving, but come home as wired from working as a gift giving elf, as from a rock concert. They have been initiated into the mysteries of Santa, and accept his reality, as they themselves have become part of his active agency. Santa is as real as the Queen or the Constitution. Armies march in his name, armies that give joy and hope, not blood and death. Armies that reach out to those in need, and to those who are drifting apart.
Santa is real. For as much as Odin known many names, his truth is singular as his nature; inspiration. The Yule Father, Father Christmas, Santa Claus, Pere Noel, by any of his bynames, in any of his disguises his work is the same. Seducer of children, as he has long been a seducer of fair maids, and some would argue of fighting men, his seduction serves a purpose. Always and forever his is the drive to bring us together as a people, to renew and strengthen our bonds.
Yule tide is his, master of fear, lord of madness, lord of the grave, he knows the heart of the dark, the brutal cold of the sunless time is only balanced by the warmth, light, love, and sustenance that we bring and share with each other. Darkest of our gods, brightest of our truths, heed the Yule Father, listen to Santa Claus, and let the silence hear your song, the darkness see your light, the loneliness fall to your laughter. Give, celebrate, laugh, be silly, be sentimental, be thankful or thoughtful, but above all, be together.
- John T Mainer