Theresa Oborn's Reviews > When Santa Was a Shaman: Ancient Origins of Santa Claus & the Christmas Tree

When Santa Was a Shaman by Tony van Renterghem
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's review
Jun 19, 2007

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Read in June, 2007

First of all, I love Santa Claus. I can't say why. I had an easy transition from believing he was a real magical person who squeezed through our central air ducts to nibble our cookies and know I wanted that tiny white Popple with the orange cheeks, to a tradition you help your parents carry on for your younger siblings/cousins/nephews/nieces. To the very end, I was reluctant to go through that notoriously traumatizing process of realizing he was an invention, but somehow it never happened, and I continue happily thinking of Santa (like God) as a state of mind.

I knew a tradition as powerful as that had to have more meat to it than the candy canes and shiny fake beards they serve up to you year after year. Then Alden Perkes' "The Santa Claus Book" gave thorough, though no less outlandish explanations to the little gaps of narrative involving flying reindeer (their antlers are especially aerodynamic), and what he does with *all* the cookies and milk children give him (he stores them away in his pocket, made from the same space-expanding material the sack of toys is made from, where they stay fresh all year).

For us older Santa fans, there are a precious few books like "When Santa Was A Shaman." Regardless of the material you're always hard-pressed to find a book that is un-biased. This one clearly states its advocacy for paganism and sneers at the twisted manipulations of the Christian church. But it does get around to tying some loose ends on the Santa tradition, with its roots in Odin, certainly, and association with all universal winter feasts that celebrated life and fertility. It took a long time for me to come to terms with its main point of connecting Santa with Pan and other satyr-like virile gods, whose horns, cloven hoofs, brooms and somehow Poseidon's trident were all associated with Satan himself. It's clear enough that he became Saint Nicholas' partner, in various devilish forms, but the fusing together of these two symbols is still a bit hazy.

As is this review. If you can stand the obvious bias, this book is a quick, less-than-200-page read with some fascinating points. It should be accompanied by supplemental reading on the same subject.

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