The Reindeer Mother.
In days of old, long before Father Christmas journeyed across our imaginary skies in his sleigh drawn by reindeer, there existed another legend from which the idea of Father Christmas’s reindeer was borrowed. As we are aware, Father Christmas has become an amalgamation of legends and stories that Coca-Cola amalgamated during the 1930s into the modern image of Father Christmas, complete with copyright and all, of course. Yet the ancestral story did not feature male reindeer; rather, it was a Reindeer Mother who took flight during the Winter Solstice. Unlike the males, it is the female that retains her antlers throughout the winter. Thus, it is she, with her grand and robust antlers, who leads and protects the herd during the long and frosty days. This mother was venerated as “the mother who gives life” by the northern peoples who relied upon her for milk, food, clothing, and shelter, as she kept the herd hale and hearty. Thus, from the British Isles to Scandinavia, Russia, Siberia, and across the Bering Strait, the legend traversed barriers and reached peoples far and wide, separated by both distance and time, but who understood the importance of the “Mother Who Gives Life.”
As the Reindeer Mother did not shed her antlers, thus faring better through the harsh winter than the males, the northern peoples saw her as a being that preserved life, even overcoming the sun’s three-day death. Since the Neolithic age, she has been revered as a spiritual figure associated with the rebirth of the sun, as well as fertility and motherhood. Her antlers adorned sanctuaries and altars, were buried in ceremonial graves, and were crafted into honourable jewellery. Her image was carved into standing stones, and her antlers often used to represent the tree of life, connecting the sun, the moon, and the stars. While it’s common to think of these images as depicting male reindeer, it is more likely they represent the Reindeer Mother, venerated by these ancient cultures from Scotland to Siberia and Mongolia. And let’s not forget that in many places, the legend still holds, and the reindeer mothers are duly cherished.
In the tales from many Nordic countries, there are no kings following the guiding star. Instead, they tell of the Winter Solstice, when during the year’s longest, darkest nights, it was the Reindeer Mother who flew for three days, her antlers carrying the light of life, shielding it from darkness until the safety of the new year, when the days began to lengthen with the rebirth of the sun god.
Thus, in the current tale of Father Christmas, it is not reindeer, but reindeer mothers that pull the sleigh, their splendid antlers intact. And Rudolph, with his shining nose, is likely based on the Reindeer Mother, who safeguarded the sun’s light during the three days it chose to slumber, carrying it in her antlers to illuminate the darkness. The truth, as is often the case, is that the original story is far more beautiful than the modern, commercial one we know today.
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