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Santa Claus: executed! The booklet of Lévi-Strauss on the origins of Christmas traditions Vesa Matteo Piludu Imatra, 2009 University of Helsinki Department.

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Presentation on theme: "Santa Claus: executed! The booklet of Lévi-Strauss on the origins of Christmas traditions Vesa Matteo Piludu Imatra, 2009 University of Helsinki Department."— Presentation transcript:

1 Santa Claus: executed! The booklet of Lévi-Strauss on the origins of Christmas traditions Vesa Matteo Piludu Imatra, 2009 University of Helsinki Department of Art Research, Semiotics

2 Santa: connects the unconnected! As all of you are aware, the “original” Santa Claus live in Korvatunturi fell, near Rovaniemi, far north in Finnish Lapland! Santa’s webpage: http://www.santaclausvillage.info/fin/etusivu.htm

3 Strange but a real post office! From Santa’s webpage: “Santa Claus’ Main Post Office, a building of handsome natural stone and aged pine, is in Santa’s Workshop Village on the Arctic Circle. There you can feel the Christmas spirit every day of the year and be served by merry post office elves in seven languages! Each year, Santa’s Workshop Village and the Main Post Office are visited by about half a million people. You can come, too!”

4 A Swede Santa on the beach

5 Grandfather Frost and the Snowmaiden The Russian Ded Moroz (Дед Мороз) plays a role similar to that of Santa Claus He brings presents to children, during the celebrations of the New Year It has a granddaughter: Snegoruchka, the beautiful Snowmaiden. Unfortunately she melts away every spring but returns each winter much to everyone’s delight.

6 American Santa’s gym

7 The Italians have strange (miss)conceptions about Santa

8 The Japanese Santa - Hello Kitty

9 Santa Black Cat

10 France, 1951: Burn, Santa! Burn! The 24th of December 1951 the newspaper France-Soir titled: “Santa Claus has been burned in front of the Dijon’s Cathedral!” 250 children were obliged to be present and some of them burn the beard of a Santa puppet The French priests defined the just-burned an “heretic” and an “usurper” and accused him to be a “dangerous” element of “paganisation” of the truly Christian spirit of the festivities The clerks wrote: “Santa has been sacrificed in a holocaust! A falsehood couldn’t reawake the religious feeling in our children!”

11 Santa according to the Dijon’s priests: heretic, pagan, usurper, a bad example for children …

12 Santa was executed in front of the Cathedral Notre Dame of Dijon

13 Crucified Santa

14 Another Santa’s funeral in 2000

15 Freaky Christmas 2: Santa raises again! With the total disappoint of the new inquisitors … Santa raised again from the ashes, after few hours Exactly at the 18:00, 24 th of December 1951, in the City Hall of Dijon. The just-killed Santa spoke to the children from the roof of the city hall, as all the years! The City authorities decided to “save” the poor Santa from the atrocities of the local Church

16 The media reactions and the problem of Lévi-Strauss Generally, all the French newspapers accused the cruelty of the Djion’s priests, asking: ”What’s wrong with Santa? He’s so cute, and the Children like him so much!” According to Levi-Strauss, the central problem wasn’t if the children liked Santa or not, but why the adults created Santa. (Lévi-Strauss C., 2002 (third edition). Babbo Natale giustiziato, Sellerio, Palermo. Page 49).

17 Inversion of roles Lévi-Strauss noticed that in the weird Djion’s affair priests burned religious traditions … While politicians, rationalists and atheists defended and resurrected Santa There was a clear inversion of social roles

18 Santa USA Lévi-Strauss noticed that Christmas wasn’t so important in France before the 2nd World War The status of the Christmas clearly upraised with the influence of the USA But the USA’s imperialism and the Marshall’s plan can’t be conceptual jollies to explain all the problems of modern French popular culture

19 Kroeber’s stimulus diffusion Lévi-Strauss citated Kroeber’s theory of the stimulus diffusion to explain the rapid diffusion of the modern Christmas in France: “an imported custom is like a catalytic center: it brings the creation of a similar native custom that was in a potential state in the influenced culture” (Ibidem, page 53)

20 A confuse Christmas fir The modern Christmas version doesn’t invent nothing, it only resets confusedly elements of different tradition and times Even the Christmas fir isn’t an homogeneous tradition At the time of Littré, our famous Christmas tree was only a poor fir branch ornamented with sweets and games for children The Christmas fir mixes separate traditions: the magic tree, the fire, the never ending light, the evergreen (Ibidem, pages 54-56)

21 Santa’s analysis Santa Claus, according to Lévi- Strauss is a kind of king dressed in red, color of royalty The clothes, the beard, the sledge are all winter symbols In Italian is called “Babbo Natale” (Daddy Christmas) Santa is old and represent the kind aspect of the authority of the old ones

22 Santa Cult According to Lévi-Strauss Santa is a kind of semi-god … and the children venerate him during the Christmas sending letters and prays Santa rewards the good ones and punish the bad boys It’s a divinity revered only during the childhood The adult don’t believe in Santa, but they encourage their Children to believe in him (Ibidem, pages 58-59)

23 Santa and Katchina (Pueblo, South West’s Natives) The katchinas are Hopi parents disguised and masked … they incarnates ancestors The masked parents returns periodically to the villages to reward or punish children

24 Santa and Katchinas had the same ”moral” function According to Lévi-Strauss the Katchinas and Santa have the same function: convince children to be obedient and kind The Christmas time limits the request of children in a certain part of the year

25 The identity of the Katchinas Leví-Strauss consider the Christmas a situation in which there is a translation and an exchange between generations The same situation is found in the Hopi traditions of the Pueblos The katchinas are the souls of the first native children, disappeared in a river during the period of the mythical emigrations The katchinas went back periodically to the pueblo villages and they took some children with them The parents asked the katchinas to stay in the otherworld: they will represent them during the rituals The katchinas are a manifestation of the death and at the same time a representation of life after death The katchinas are the children, the humans that are nearest to the world of the souls … as the newborn came from the world of the dead

26 Life and death In the katchina rituals the initiates are the adults, the living ones, the masked The uninitiated are the children, unmasked, representing the souls of the dead children The exchange between the adults and children represents and exchange between life and death

27 Santa and the ”Lords of Misrule” Lévi-Strauss (page 65) argued that the original figure of Santa could be a bricolage of many different characters: The ancient Roman Saturnus Abbé de Liesse Abba Stultorum Abbé de la Malgouverné Lord of Misrule The Scandinavian Julebok Saint Nicolaus – Nicola All this figures were ”kings” during the Christmas time or in December, the darkest month of the winter, fulfilled with souls and ghosts

28 Saturnus Saturn or Saturnus deity of harvest from serere, " to sow." “the lord of the fieldfruits” Saturn's wife was Ops Saturn was the father of Ceres and Jupiter Saturday is dies Saturni Saturn was the first King of Latium (from Latere) His city was on the top of the Capitoline Hill (Saturnia). He is said to have had an altar at the foot of the Capitol before Rome was founded. King of the Golden Age

29 Temple of Saturn in Rome: the older temple dated from 497 BC but the ruins are from 42 BC. It contained the treasure of the Roman state.

30 The Saturnalia The celebration in honour of Saturnus were celebrated from the 17th to the 24th of December The saturnalia were the festival of the larvae, the souls of the spirits dead in violent circumstances or without a proper burial The Church decided to fix the Christmas more or less in the same days to ”cover” the pagan celebrations

31 Saturnalia The Saturnalia had carnival’s aspects, but the festivity had also strong aspects of social solidarity The slaves were served by the patrons The children, near to the souls’ world, received presents, puppets and candles The festival was a celebration of the Golden Age

32 A Medieval evil Santa: the abbot of unreason Scotland had an official similar to the English Lord of Misrule, known as the Abbot of Unreason (suppressed in 1555), and both are thought by scholars to be descended from the “king” or “bishop” who presided over the earlier Feast of Fools The abbot had a senseless conduct, including blasphemy, robbery and, in some extreme cases, homicides and rapes

33 Abbé de Liesse He was a bishop-child, elected by an invocation of Saint Nicolas He was ”in charge” the 25th of December Other bishop-children were proclaimed the 28th of December, the day of the Innocent “In England there was this great tradition that on the feast of St Nicholas... a child, the smallest chorister of the choir, became the bishop” The Reverend Carrie Thomps on BBC, Monday, 8 December 2008

34 Old Christmas as Halloween? The Medieval Christmas time, as the Saturnalia, mixed element of solidarity with the most brutal excess The Abbé de Liesse was enthroned by the authorities and he should control that the excess didn’t overflow into violence What about the other children? They wander masked from home to home singing … and they receive fruit and sweets The Medieval Christmas was something very similar to Halloween

35 Ghost-Children singing death’s songs … and waiting for sweets or bread The Scottish children sung these verses during Christmas: Rise up, good wife, and be no swier (lazy) To deal your bread as long’s you’re here; The time will come when you’ll be dead, And neither want nor meal nor bread The children were representative of the world of the dead, mentioning death in the songs … and they expect a proper behavior from the adults (generosity, activity) All this elements are quite evident in modern Halloween According to some traditions, Saint Nicolas resuscitates dead children

36 Julebok – Joulu pukki – Christmas Goat It’s a goat-demon of Scandinavian origins, lord of the subterranean world. It gave children presents. In Finland … joulupukki or nuuttipukki was a man disguised in goat-man clothes, symbol of death and fertility, a bit shamanistic The nuuttipukki asked for alcohol and was dreadful for children Sometimes the nuuttipukki gives children presents, if they were kind the nuuttipukki – figure was transformed in the modern joulupukki, Santa Claus … even if in his name he is still a “goat (pukki) of Christmas (joulu)”!

37 The Christmas elves or gnomes In Scandinavia and Finland Santa is helped by elves or dwarves (tonttu in modern Finnish) As for Julebok, also these fantastic creatures are connected to the underground world of death and fertility Tomte in ancient Swedish means ”Master spirit” (haltija) The dwarves are a recent addition to Christmas (XIX century)

38 The Befana In Italy Babbo Natale (Santa) has a curious female counterpart: the witch-like Befana, who gives sweets to the children on 6th of January. This Befana appears to be heir at law of a certain heathen Sabine/Roman goddess called Strenia, who presided over the new- year's gifts, Strenae

39 La Befana vien di notte! La Befana vien di notte Con le scarpe tutte rotte Col vestito alla romana Viva, Viva La Befana! The English translation is: The Befana comes by night With her shoes all tattered and torn She comes dressed in the Roman way Long life to the Befana!

40 A matter of death and life! All these traditional winter celebrations (saturnalia, Hopi’s Katchinas, Medieval and Scandinavian Christmas’ traditions, Halloween and even Carnivals) … seems to be marked by a common element: All this rituals celebrates social role’s inversions and an exchange between the living and the dead: the dead spirits (children or Goat-demons) will leave the winter only after receiving presents... After these rituals the spring and the life will come back The dead role isn’t only negative, they are also life-bringer: the dead ancestor s will resurrect in the newborns

41 To rise Hell in children is to express otherness During the winter festivities there was a real hellrising sometimes the adults represent the dead souls (the Julebok and the nuuttipukki) … but more often the representative of the ghosts are the children (Ancient Rome, Medieval Christmas, Halloween)… which are less incorporated in the social system The dead celebrations of winter are first of all festivals of otherness (children, slaves, immorality) … as the dead are the other par excellence

42 Santa Claus and Saint Nikolaus Lévi Strauss didn’t analyze in deep the relation between Santa Claus and Saint Nikolaus … But there is a relevant similitude between them Santa Claus is an abbreviation of Saint Nikolaus, who wasn’t Finn at all … Nikolaus was born in Myra, in modern Turkey It was a bishop, so he has the typical red clothes of the bishops Nikolaus was a protector of young ladies and saved tree young virgins from a destiny of prostitution throwing money through their window

43 The dowry for the three virgins (Gentile da Fabriano, c. 1425, Pinacoteca Vaticana, Rome).

44 Saint Nikolaus Later Saint Nikolaus became the protector of the children, of the seamen, of the cattle, of bears… and the patron of the whole Russian Orthodox church According to the Christian tradition it was buried in South Italy, in the Bari’s Cathedral of San Nicola From South Italy, his cult spread in all continental Europe Saint Nikolaus is a strong and clear representation of Christian solidarity and generosity

45 Gentile da Fabriano, c. 1425. Pinacoteca Vaticana

46 San Nicola’s cathedral, Bari, Italy

47 The tomb of San Nicola in Bari, as it appears today

48 Russian Icon of Saint Nikolai

49 The feast of the Translation In May (9 or 22) the Russian Orthodox Church celebrate the feast of the "Translation of the Relics of Saint Nicholas from Myra to Bari".

50 Who is the modern Santa Claus? Obviously a kind of cultural Frankenstein or bricolage He incorporates in a creative way elements of quite all the past Winter festivals’ fantastic figures analyzed by Lévi-Strauss At the same time Santa is the representation of an ideal of generosity He is someone that gives without the desire to have something back. In this he resembles clearly the old Saint Nikolaus.


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