Today, I have two Christmas topics to share.
First, in honor of the Christmas holiday, I want to say thank you to all of you who have read my blog, shared posts with friends, and offered comments. I am constantly amazed by the increasing number of people who have found my corner of the internet and have spent time here. I am also touched by the generosity of readers who have donated money or bought books to help support this web site and my work. I thank all of you with the deepest sincerity.
Second, last night I watched the 2010 Christmas-themed Finnish horror movie Rare Exports, about a rural community in Lapland confronted by an invasion of evil, feral Santas (based in part on the European myth of the evil anti-Santa, such as Krampus) that had been long-buried beneath an artificial mountain until an American excavation crew released them from their centuries-long captivity.
I know, I probably should have seen it by now, but it never played in theaters around me and by the time it was out on DVD in late 2011, I had forgotten all about it. It turned up in a listing on Hulu, and it sparked a memory.
Something that struck me immediately is how closely the movie hewed to the widespread European myth of the Sleeping King that we’ve discussed in this space several times before. This myth, which dates back as far as our written sources can go, posits that a god, hero, or king waits sleeping in a tomb beneath a mountain, surrounded by his armed attendants, awaiting the time when he is needed to defend the nation. The progenitors of this widespread folk tale are believed to be Indo-European and answering to the Greek god Kronos and the Northern god Odin/Woden/Wotan. The Sleeping King is believed to have grown old in his tomb and therefore, like Santa Claus, has a long, flowing white beard. It’s probably also worth mentioning that many scholars attribute much of the modern tradition of Santa Claus to earlier beliefs about Odin, including his bearded appearance and his midwinter ride delivering gifts, a tradition drawn from Odin’s old role in the pagan celebration of Yule.
In Rare Exports, Santa Claus (never actually seen except for large horns) is frozen in a block of ice, placed in the center of a large, mountain-sized burial mound created in ancient times by the Sami people to imprison him. He is accompanied in his icy tomb by 198 armed “elves,” old men with long white beards and axes answering to our descriptions of the modern Santa Claus.
Obviously, the major difference is that the old myth was meant to be a positive one, a celebration of the supernatural protection that would save a people or a place. The modern movie is a horror parody and uses these elements as objects of terror. This is a backhanded acknowledgement of the power of the old stories in a world that no longer can take them quite seriously. Formerly divine myths retain their aura of power even when the gods within them are no longer worshipped. They are either transferred to new gods or heroes, or they become diabolized. In the Middle Ages, the stories of Kronos and Odin were visited upon Charlemagne, Frederick Barbarossa, and sundry other heroes. Our culture lacks heroes, and we can credit supernatural power only to evil.
In horror, we see in inverted form some of the last gasps of ancient religion and myth, granted their ancient power in the only form in which modern people can acknowledge them.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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