Santa we can trace to Europe, where various traditions of Father Christmas are shown, generally in some combination of red and green and white, with evergreens and holly and other proofs of life to raise the spirits in the bleak winter months. Following it further back in time, we have shamans of the Siberian tundra who told of a powerful, magical shaman who would fly around on a reindeer, dressed all in red, and give out gifts and visions to shamans and other favored people. This “supershaman” was associated with hallucinogenic mushrooms stored in small bags over the fire.
Then we have the Roman-era merging of Christianity with the local customs, most notably in England, with carols, and with festivals of lights designed to conjure the summer in. Generosity, and recognition that in this hard time of year, there are those who need help now more than ever, and so it is our “Christian” duty (though these values existed before Christianity came) to help those less fortunate to make it through the hard times.
Through all of this, as I mentioned in my earlier post, there runs a common theme. Christmas as we know it in America is shaped by winter, and by the climate that provides for that season. Evergreens have little meaning in a climate where it is green the year round. What will Christmas look like in the future? Will we be celebrating, not warmth in winter, but life in the dry season? It may well be that in the future, desert dwellers will have more in common with our holiday traditions than we do today.
It may also be that in the future, we are those desert dwellers. Maybe some day I’ll have a cactus as a Christmas tree, to represent life in the harshest dry season, and to conjure in the rain.