Odin in Norse mythology was the chief god of
Northern Europe and father of the god Thor. He was the god of the early
Vikings whose pirate bands attacked and pillaged coastal settlements of
northern and western Europe from the eighth through the tenth century.
Many years before Christ, the norsemen
believed Odin rode through the world at midwinter distributing rewards or
punishment to his earthly subjects. At that time of year the Vikings were
unable to go to sea so they congregated in great halls to talk of their
exploits and to honor their gods in thanks for a good year. In true Viking
fashion, the celebration was a rowdy drinking occasion.
The German Odin was depicted in rough
skins, the garb of the early Vikings, going about on Christmas Eve
rewarding good children with fruit and nuts.
Odinís son Thor was revered during a
celebration known as Mothernite. In mid-December the return of the sun to
the northern regions was a time of great joy and praise was given to the
gods. Thor usually appeared in a chariot in the sky, perhaps a forerunner
of Santa in a sleigh. The influence of these two deities persisted
throughout northern Europe and is reflected in our present calendar. Oden
was changed to Woden and his sacred day Wodenís Day became Wednesday. In
like manner, Thorís sacred day became our present Thursday.
When the northern races invaded Britain,
they brought their gods with them. The early Christian church found it
easier to adapt than forbid old beliefs and as a result pagan cultures
were allowed to mix with Christian Christmas. Festivals of the heathen
gods such as Odin were modified to Christian practice. At Christmas time
the pagans were slow to change and Christ and Odin were honored equally
for at least 200 years after the cultures joined.
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