The Holiday Horses

christmas horse santaBefore there was Santa Claus, there were Saint Nicholas and Sinterklaas.  And, before there were reindeer, these holiday gift-givers rode horses. 

Prior to Chistianity, people celebrated a midwinter event called Yule (the Winter Solstice).  During this period  supernatural and ghostly occurrences were said to increase in frequentcy, such the Wild Hunt, a ghostly procession through the sky. The leader of the wild hunt is the god Odin, usually sleipner christmas horseseen with a long white beard.   He is also known by the  Old Norse names Jólnir, meaning “yule figure” and the name Langbarðr, meaning “long-beard.”  Odin rode his gray horse (the eight-footed steed called Sleipnir) on nightly rides and visiting people with gifts.  Years later, Odin’s white beard became part of the “new” Santa Claus, his blue robe was changed to red, and his eight-footed grey horse became eight reindeer!

christmas sinterklass and white horseIn the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg,  Santa Claus is called “Sinterklaas” and the holiday for giving gifts is December 6th. He traditionally rides the rooftops on a white horse, known by various names.  Sinterklass is an elderly, stately and serious man(unlike our jolly Santa Clause) but does have the transitional white hair and a long, full beard. Also like Santa, he wears a long red cape and a red hat, but holds a long, gold-colored ceremonial shepherd’s staff with a fancy curled top.  

To keep track of who should receive presents, Sinterklass writes in the book of Saint Nicholas notes on all children – the start of the legend of Santa’s list of who was naughty or nice.   Sinterklass’ solution to helping the poor by putting money in their shoes  later evolved with Santa Claus into giving presents. 

After going into hiding for a few centuries during the Reformation when public celebrations were banned, Sinterklass returned to ride over roof tops and deliver presents through chimneys to good girls and boys – but now his horse was grey.  Either people realized that whites often turned grey as they age or riding over all those roof tops turned the horse darker, but you’ll either hear Sinterklass has a white or gray horse.  Children leave a carrot, apple and/or hay as a treat for Sinterklaas’ horse.

Enjoy your holiday and remember that horses were the start of gift giving – and give  your horse a treat in return!

Wishing you a wonderful holiday season and all the best in the new year!


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