Celebrating the Wild Side of Yorkshire’s Coast & Country:
A Little Bit of Christmas Cheer
The weather is certainly affecting local wildlife. Wild and garden plants simply have not worked out it really is winter yet. Indeed, I have lots of Ox-eye Daisies, Fuchsias, and even Roses in bloom, plus a spring-flowering Golden Sovereign now out early!
There is not much ‘snow lying round about, deep and crisp and even’! Things are slow on the garden birdfeeders as most, e.g. Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Blue Tit, Great Tit, and Goldfinches etc, are still in local hedgerows and woodlands. A few cold nights may bring them in in time for Christmas but who knows? The weather still does not have that Christmas feel. A Blue Tit checked out one of my nest-boxes, and a pair of Dunnocks displayed and perhaps more, but they disappeared behind a bush!! Alongside the winter-visiting thrushes, Mistle Thrushes are calling with their football-rattle churr. Mistle Thrushes like Blackbirds are territorial in the breeding season. However, they get decidedly stroppy around favourite berry bushes or fruit trees in winter, displaying and repelling rival Thrushes, Blackbirds and Fieldfares.
Talking of Mistle Thrushes or Mistletoe Thrushes, brings me to Christmas. Many of our oldest and most cherished Christmas customs are neither so traditional (in some cases), or ‘Christmasy’ (in others), as we might think. Most of the cults of greenery such as Holly, Mistletoe, and in some regions Rosemary, Bay or other evergreens are decidedly pagan; with fertility and sexual overtones. So what about ‘Father Christmas’ a man of many aliases like St Nicholas and Santa Claus? Well he didn’t celebrate Christmas and knew little about Reindeer. In Dutch legends ‘Sinterklaas’ rides a grey horse, wearing bishop’s clothes (well I suppose it takes all sorts at Christmas ……).
If you head north you may come across the Finnish legend of ‘Old Man Winter’ who does drive his reindeer down from the mountains and brings the snow with him. So we now have a man who sounds like he sports a long white beard and is involved with Reindeer. The image of Santa that we see everywhere – as the plump, jolly figure, long white beard etc is depressingly recent. It comes from the drawings of Thomas Nast in Harpers Weekly between 1863 and 1886; the fur-trimmed robe inspired by the furs of the wealthy Astors. However, there is worse to come.
**(SO SMALL OR SENSITIVE CHILDREN SHOULD NOT READ BEYOND THIS POINT).
Our ‘traditional’ Santa in shops, in gardens, in corporate displays, on cards, inflated and illuminated in countless balconies of homes in for example the Gleadless Valley across to Dinnington, and from Askern to Grimethorpe, is a complete fraud, a charlatan. The jovial bundle of fun and merriment clad in red and white (a Blades fan of course!), is the invention of Coca-Cola. Before 1931, Santa Claus had different garbs from a natty green elf number, to a sombre St Nicholas; in one he was a gaunt man in animal skins or straw, called Knecht Rupprecht, and apparently rather frightening.
English legends relate to the ‘Green Man’; not ‘Swampy’ or David Bellamy but an image harking back to pagan ancestors, the spirit of nature and the wildwood. From our Viking ancestors was the Norse god Odin in the depths of winter visiting his worshippers with gifts for the deserving and punishments the bad; a few folk should be looking out around Yuletide!
Anyway Coca-Cola commissioned young Swedish artist, Haddon Sundblom to do an image makeover; in modern parlance a bit of ‘spin’. It worked a treat with St Nicholas wearing a red coat with white trim and a thick leather belt, and posed various seasonal scenes. In 1934 he gained a hat also trimmed in white. He also lost his pipe and gained a bottle of Coke; posing with children, reindeer, sacks of toys, or letters. His very modest gifts of things such as cakes, fruit, nuts, dolls and items of clothing, also became much more expensive and led to the pinnacle of the consumer-driven Christmas experience. This really is the American dream! So have a ‘Cool Yule and a Happy Hogmanay’; just one thought:
‘Don’t forget, environmental catastrophe isn’t just for Christmas, with any luck there’ll be a bit left over for Boxing Day!’