Thursday, December 22, 2016

Gryla, Perchta, Befana, Forest Mother, Iron Tooth, Holle, Baba Yaga and... Mrs. Claus? Ho, ho - yes!

Researching what Baba Yaga would offer for advice (or as warnings) during the holiday season, it quickly became apparent that our favorite, ferocious wise woman has many sisters, quite a few of which are very active during the Winter Solstice and while some of their names are familiar, some are far less so.
Here's some seasonal reading for you on Baba Yaga's Yuletide 'sisters': 
The Lost Female Figures of Christmas Part I 
Mōdraniht - Mother's Night
Santa Lucia - Saint Lucy
Christkind (always portrayed by a grown woman)
Snegurochka - Snow Child/Maiden
Frau Holle
The Lost Female Figures of Christmas Part II 
Witte Wieven - The White Women

Grýla - Icelandic giantess
In reading about the sisters above, if you pay attention, you begin to see aspects of a modern female figure (that appears during our holiday season), emerge as well. That figure is, surprisingly, Mrs. Claus.

Although considered an American construct, that was quickly adopted by the UK, it's especially in recent times in which she seems to have become "more active", which is interesting. Not only is she helping Santa get ready for his 24 hour Christmas Eve world run, but these days we see references to her attending to small but key details that change the course of lives and sometimes history. She was credited with "saving Christmas" in the 1960's by the tale of the same name, but her character has quietly developed in complexity since then too. It's gotten to the point where she now ventures out on her own Christmas missions, without the Big Guy knowing, to take care of something she's sees as important, in person.
2016 saw her biggest update yet, thanks to a marketing campaign by Marks & Spencer. Take a look at this commercial that's touching a lot of hearts this season:
The ad has caught a lot of positive attention, and one writer, HERE, points out lots of wonderful details which might slip your attention on first viewing, but are worth sharing as they are all symbols of something else: feminine confidence, power and capability. While we won't include the whole description, here's an excerpt:
The ad, which was created by King's Speech director Tom Hooper, sees a little boy called Jake write to Mrs Claus on Christmas Eve for help. ...She reads Jake's letter (while sporting some fabulous thick-rimmed black glasses) and resolves to help him.

...New Christmas ass-kicking outfit on, and her hair subtly transformed into a Hillary Clinton power bob, Mrs Claus gets on her snowmobile and rides over the frozen landscape to an ice cave, where a bright red chopper (called R-DOLF, obviously) awaits. a scene which wouldn't look out of place in a Bond film, Mrs Claus flies her ruby red helicopter from the North Pole to ...deliver the gift.
(At) a time of year when all around seem to be telling women how to drop a dress size before party season; which shop the best mums go to; or how to plan ahead to ensure everyone else's needs are satisfied on the big day, it's refreshing to see a middle-aged woman tearing through the skies in a helicopter as if it's the most natural thing in the world. After all, in 2016 every little girl should know that she's just as capable as any boy.

It almost seems as if things have come a full circle - or that they're certainly heading that way. This Mrs. Claus, or Mother Christmas, is quite the feminist bad ass. And somehow, they managed to change her from old and frumpy, to a mature contemporary woman who's also capable and stylish, without stooping to either slutty or sickly sweet. She's almost, but not quite, a superhero. She's a capable, feminine, high profile wife, who finds that tricky balance between acting selflessly and enjoying her perks, and doesn't need - or want - the spotlight. (We have a feeling the Winter Sisters - and Baba Yaga - approve.)

So perhaps it's not so far fetched for people to be sending Mrs. Claus requests for help during the Christmas season. After all, her ancestral cousins have been in the business of helping out during the darkest time of the year for a very long time.

Note: "Love Mrs. Claus" got a lot of best-of-the-biz to bring her to life - from award winning writers, to composers and the actress herself having quite a shiny resume. You can read all the behind-the-scenes HERE.

1 comment:

  1. Should be mentioned that so far there is no proof that the belief inFrau Holle goes back further than the Middle Ages. Perhaps the lack of female deities left by the displacement of pagan beliefs led to the creation of an all new figure. She doesn't seem to have much in common with Freya anyway. Her association with Winter and Death seems to link her more to Skadi or Hel if there really is a connection to Norse mythology.

    The author doesn't give much info about the origins of the Christkind, so I'll fill that in: During reformation, the Lutheran Church did not like that people were giving gifts to children on St. Nicholas day, which perpetuated the belief in saints. So someone, maybe even Martin Luther himself, suggested instead that parents should give gifts on Christmas Eve and replace St. Nicholas as a gift giver with Jesus himself ("Der heilige Christ"). You can still read about this custom books up to the 19th century, most prominently The Nutcracker. However over the course of time "Der heilige Christ" got turned into "Das Christkind". The name change was probably inspired by nativity plays,in which the leader of the angels was called "Christkind". And for some reason agels are more often than not imagined as female. Perhaps another response to the lack of female deities in Christianity, perhaps a misunderstanding of the quite androgynous looks of male angels in traditional art. The association with Jesus was lost over time. The folklore corncerning the Christkind got spread to catholic regions of Germany and other German-speaking parts of Europe, while in Lutheran regions Santa Claus (der Weihnachtsmann) overtook the role of gift giver. So nowadays the Christkind is mostly spread in catholic regions. Turning the "Christkind" into an adult woman rather than a child was probably born out of necesessity, because that way professional actors could be hired to potray her (the custom to elect the Nuremberg Christkindl only started in the 60s). In many regions the Christkind is not thought of as a woman, but as an invisible, acorporeal and therefore asexual being. However the association with femininity is not entirely lost. At least where I live, we tell children that only mothers can see the Christkind.