Saturday, December 20, 2008

The First Santa

In this holiday season, I received this cri de coeur from the mother of a young boy named James:

James just found out that his parents stuff his stockings each year instead of Santa Claus. He is crestfallen. I asked him if he remembered a story you told him about a real live, animal-loving "Santa" that lived long ago, and he did, but neither of us could conjure enough details to make a suitable retelling. Could you please give me a reference to find the story of this previous, real-life "Santa"? It just might save Christmas for a certain 5-year old boy who yearns to believe.

I remembered a conversation in which I suggested that the original Santa was a shaman of the Sami, a reindeer-herding people of Lapland, reputed to have the power to call up the winds and fly through the air, and that the reason his coat is red is that it was the flayed skin of a reindeer. I have seen Sami drums with images of a shaman flying through the three tiers of the shamanic cosmos on a sleigh pulled by reindeer. But while there is a rich ethnography on Sami shamanism, I could think of no source that would be suitable for a young boy. So I took on the assignment of writing my own version of the first Santa, addressed to a boy in danger of losing his belief in Christmas magic.

To a Boy Who Found Out It Wasn’t Santa Who Brought the Presents

Dear James

I heard you found out that it wasn’t Santa who put the presents in your stocking, but people who live with you every day.

I know this is a shocking discovery, and it would not be surprising if you felt cheated and confused.

This is also a very big moment on your journey of growing up. Actually, it’s not big, it’s ENORMOUS.

You have come to a fork in your road. If you let your feelings of disappointment and betrayal take you down the wrong path, you could very easily end up in the world of the Meanies who don’t believe in any kind of magic at all, and therefore never have any. Go the other way and you’ll come to know that, even if Mommy and Daddy filled the stocking, Santa is REAL. Not only is he real; he is MORE real than you could understand before you found out about the presents.

Let me explain.

When a story is as important as Santa’s, lots of people will try to tell it their own way. So you’ll hear that Santa was a saint who traveled the world producing marvels and good works many centuries ago. Or that he was a winter king in a great northern forest. Meanies might tell you he was dreamed up by slick advertising men so they can sell more stuff. It’s often said that Santa lives at the North Pole with his elves. Most children I know, and some grown-ups, picture him flying through the sky with a team of reindeer. They are more right than all the rest.

I am going to tell you the true and original story of Santa. Accept no substitutes.

Long ago and far away, where the sun shines all night on Midsummer’s Eve and never shows its face at Midwinter, a boy they called Dreamer lived with his family among the Reindeer People. They were a simple folk who lived on fish and the fruits of the earth, on reindeer milk and sometimes, in the hungry depths of winter, on reindeer meat. They followed the reindeer through the cycle of the seasons, forever in search of something to eat. They made tools and toys and holy statues out of reindeer bone, and when they danced around their fires, men and women both wore crowns of reindeer antlers.

Dreamer was an awkward boy. He couldn’t run or move as fast on snow shoes as the others. He wasn’t very lucky at fishing, and he couldn’t lift the great tree-trunks they used for their winter games of log-tossing. They called him Dreamer because his mind always seemed to be wandering somewhere else. He loved the reindeer, and sometimes his mother would find him dreaming among them, arms wrapped in sleep around the belly of a reindeer cow.

Even the wild reindeer approached him without fear. That was why, one hungry winter, his father made him go out with the hunters, to call the wild reindeer from the shadows of the evergreens. As a magnificent bull reindeer trotted towards him, the boy's father muttered, “Take him. He’s yours.” The boy trembled, with his father’s long bow in his hands, looking into the deep steady eyes of the reindeer.

Impatient, his father threw his spear. Blood spurted from the great heart of the stag over the boy's chest. He dropped to his knees by the body of the reindeer, asking forgiveness. “We do this so our people may live.”

His father punished him for his failure to take the kill by forcing him to skin the reindeer with his own knife, and carry the hide back to the village on his shoulders. Staggering under the weight, he wore the reindeer hide bloody side out, so he seemed to be wrapped in a bright red coat.

That night, while the boy’s father and mother were snoring under their sleeping skins, he woke and looked up through the smoke hole into a field of stars. Through the field, a reindeer was racing on flying hooves. It swooped down through the smoke hole and stood over the boy, so close the steam from its nostrils entered him. He understood, without human words, what he was to do. He was to make a drum, using the hide he had carried back from the woods, binding it to the frame he would carve from an evergreen. He would use a piece of antler as a beater. An old one who lived alone in the woods would show him things he needed to know to make the drum right.

I don’t know how much you know about drums. This was not the kind of drum you see at a concert, or in a marching band, or in a toy shop. It was the kind of drum you can ride. The boy did not know that until he made it, and learned to tap-tap-tap with his bone hammer until the winds changed and the air was filled with the sound of drumming hooves.

Another night came, at the darkest time of the year, when the reindeer looked down through the smoke hole and the wind whispered, Tomorrow. The boy walked alone in the gray absence of dawn to the tree that had provided the frame of his drum. He made himself a nest among soft needles the reindeer had not touched.

As soon as he touched the drum, the stag appeared, different from before. Now his back was covered by a scarlet saddlecloth. The boy understood what he was meant to do. He swung himself up, as someone else might get up on a horse. There was no bit or bridle; he just held on to the reindeer’s neck as he took off at a terrific pace, heading ever north across frozen marshes and ice floes, into a world of white. Ahead, he saw a huge glowing disk very low on the horizon. It seemed he was flying into the face of the moon.

The boy found himself in the presence of an immense being that blazed with light. It was like looking at the moon, caught in the bare branches of a giant oak. The boy’s vision changed and he saw a woman more beautiful than anything he had ever imagined, a White Lady crowned with great glowing antlers. He knelt before the Reindeer Queen. She smiled a moon-bright smile and raised him up and held him to her breast like a mother.

She told him, “Darker times are coming. You will need to become a man quickly, and more than a man, to help bring back the light. When the time comes, I will call you and show you what to do.”

When the ice broke up, monsters appeared in the inlets where the Reindeer People went to fish. The monsters reared from the waters with the heads of leering dragons, then disgorged terrible iron-clad men bent on killing and plunder.

The Iron Men stormed over the land. The boy's father, now headman of his village, gathered the herders and the older boys to defend their women and their tame reindeer. Fearing for his son’s life and contemptuous of his fighting skills, he ordered Dreamer to stay with the herd.

When the din of battle sounded across the hill, and the boy's mother armed herself with a bone knife, the boy took his drum and sat among the reindeer, in the long grass. He tapped with the bone hammer until he felt himself stretch and stretch. Then he was flying with the reindeer, through the arctic rainbow to the palace of the Reindeer Queen.

Bright as the full moon, she told him, it was time to meet Brother Bear. The great bear rose up before him like a shaggy mountain. Dreamer wasn’t afraid, well, not as much as he might have been if the Reindeer Queen had not made the introductions.

When Brother Bear opened his arms, the boy stepped forward and hugged him hard, though his arms could cover only a tiny part of the bear’s tremendous girth. When Brother Bear hugged him back, closing his mighty arms, Dreamer fell through the heart of the mountain, into the world of battle.

The Iron Men were baying victory. What landed before them, making thunder in the earth, silenced their cries. Sword-arms and spear-arms ceased hacking and cutting, frozen in mid-thrust. Brother Bear towered between the Iron Men and the herders. He reached down and plucked the invaders from the field like toy soldiers. He tossed them back towards their dragon boats. The remnants of the Iron Men broke and fled, throwing down weapons and plates of armor to speed their escape. Rejoicing, Dreamer's father ran to bring his wife and son the good news. He found the boy sleeping under his drum, among the reindeer. He poked the boy with the toe of his boot. “Dreaming again, eh? Rouse yourself, boy! Come and see how we won the good fight.”

As the boy struggled to his feet, very wobbly, the form of the great bear began to wobble too, fading to a thin mist, then gone.

When she called him again, the Reindeer Queen told the boy, “When you are grown, you will be wide and strong and big-bellied, like Brother Bear. And all who see you will smile and be jolly, except men of evil hearts, who will flee before you.”

So the boy grew to be a man, wide-bellied and jolly, fond of stuffing himself with summer berries and tracking the bees to the best honeypots in the trees. When he tapped on his drum and the reindeer came to take him flying now, they came as a whole team and he road in a sleigh that they pulled through the sky, since he was now too broad to ride on the back of a single animal. Whistling for favorable winds, he traveled far beyond the lands of the Reindeer People.

His biggest journey began when he was old, in the eyes of men, and the Reindeer Queen called him to tell him that there was new star in the sky, and its light was coming to the Northlands.

He flew to a place where the wisest of the wise were waiting for this star. He stood with them on top of a mountain, He saw the night sky open like a smoke hole to reveal the new star. Light came down from it like a pillar, and inside the pillar he saw the face of a radiant child that melted his heart.

He wanted to lay gifts before the child, but he had nothing except his beating heart.

“Drum for me from your heart,” the star-child told him. “Drum for the hearts of men, to help them open to give and share in peace on this night of the turning year.”

Santa has been doing that ever since. When he drums, hearts open like the roofs of houses, and shining gifts come pouring down.

Whoever gives in a spirit of love and joy on this special night has Santa inside him, or her.
When Mommy and Daddy were stuffing your stocking, Santa was there with them.

Now, I know that when you’ve seen something with your eyes it can be hard to believe a different thing unless you can see that with your eyes too.

So I want you to know this.

In a great museum in Europe there is a drum made of reindeer skin. On it is an old, old painting of a man flying through the sky on a sleigh pulled by reindeer. I’m not saying this is Santa’s drum. I think his drum is too lively to ever get caught and stuck in a museum. I am saying that whoever painted and used that drum knew how you make flying reindeer, and how you get down chimneys.


Nancy said...

Wow! You should be writing children's stories! On this snowy December morning you have warmed my heart. I do believe in Santa Claus. I do! I do!

Unknown said...

Yes, Robert. I could see this book unfold before my eyes.

See the should write children's books as well. Adults, LOVE so called CHILDREN'S Books!

Anonymous said...

Lovely and substantive story. Beautiful imagery. I agree with Naomi... I, too, could see this story unfold before my eyes.

Robyn said...

Robert, this is so beautiful, inspiring and instructive. A powerful improvement on "Yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus"!

Thanks for sharing.

I second the comments about a children's book.

Donna K said...

a REAL Christmas Story!
Thank You!

Bob W said...

A beautiful and powerful story! All the more so for having had a chance to journey within it. In my case, it was within the Star. Thanks again, and best wishes for you and family.

Unknown said...

"'Drum for me from your heart,' star-child told him".... ahhhh, so moved. THIS is the spirit of Christmas. Bravo for this magnificent, touching story.

This is far too important to remain merely here on your blog. Oh, the illustrations will be magic. I love love love Dreamer and his ties to earth. I WANT THIS BOOK (NOW)! ;-)

It would be wonderful, too, recorded in your voice - I'm sure every child I know would beg to listen to this at bedtime on Christmas Eve (giving parents a bit more time for filling those stockings! ;-))

Standing ovation, Robert.

Gretchen said...

A beautiful story to warm my spirits as I prepare to spend my son's first Christmas in the hospital (but he is doing great!).

When I found out Mommy stuffed the stockings so many years ago, she made it into a special Christmas ritual by allowing my sister and I to play with our stockings in our room until 7am when we were allowed to wake her and open the presents under the tree. Somehow this didn't clue me in to question Santa's existence. I wanted to believe in Christmas magic, and I'm excited to share it with my son.

Carol said...

I loved this story. To me it a strong story of hope, magic, but most important to me, not blandly sweet or at all commercial.

Robert Moss said...

Thank you all so much for your seasonal cheer. Carol, your last phrase evokes my own feelings about the season and the story. I sat down to write it because a little boy needed help to hold on to the Christmas magic. After giving it to him, I read over what I had written and realized that this is for all kids, including the kids inside all of us. I know the story will want to be published somewhere, with brilliant illustrations, and I suspect the right team to make that happen will show up as delightfully as a reindeer-borne visitor popping down the chimney. But my first instinct was to share this freely with all who are open to it, in this season and in this simple format.

Unknown said...

Robert, you have created an enduring story for the spirit! You join Dickens, Clement Moore and Dr Seuss (!) as mythic meta-story-makers. May the season warm all around your table, and in the light-circle of your magnificent work.

Diana said...

I'm so glad you put this on the blog. Having been fortunate enough to have heard you read it at the circle last week and to have journeyed into its magic folds, I was eager to hear it again! It's a story full of the wonder-struck awe of childhood that rings with a far clearer trueness than many a Christmas story. Both a book of children's stories and a cd or dvd with you reading them...umm, well worth birthing! Thank you, Robert for awakening the magic of the season!

Carol said...

I have out my red bandana hankerchief. Just honest hearfelt tears. Nothing maudlin.

Grace said...

it just brings me right to my center....thank you Robert, but yes, I can see it as a children's story......

Lynette Turner said...

Dear Robert,

What a beautiful narrative in a vivid and engaging story that those of all ages can embrace. I loved that the little boy is named “Dreamer” – a reminder that all of us should keep the dreamer spirit alive and dancing. Thanks so much for sharing. I see this story as the first in a series. Oh, the adventures of Dreamer could be endless.

Skipper Kim said...

Hooray for Christmas MAGIC...and to the kid that lives in each of us.


Thanks for that Robert I think I will be needing that story very soon.


Robert Moss said...

Thanks again, to you all, for your warm and generous word-gifts this season. Dear Lynette, I (and the boy Roberts inside me who are clamoring for me to write more for and with THEM) will take your suggestion very series-ly.

Grace said...

JOURNEY!!!!!That's what I want to say, this story is a journey for those of us who deplore this snow and dark, how I would rather be in Hawaii, or on the lane with my Austraian relatives who wanted to see some snow and are stuck in Vermont on a hilltop, buried by dark and snow, soon they will be flying away back to the HOT Aussie summer!!!!!!!But, I am here somehow in this lifetime to be here this day when it is still snowing, and I don't even live that far north......This story is a wonderful journey and dream image for me to use. It really helps me to appreciate this arctic feel......It's much warmer in Connecticut than reindeer land land of the Light Goddess..............It's good for children, but I feel inspired to call out to all ages..what a journey, what a dream!!!!!!!!!!!!!( would still rather be dreaming this where it is warm....) It's a good lesson for the winters of all our lives. Winter of death, winter of old age, winter as the opposite of heat, this story is ancient but also present day.......very rich.

Robert Moss said...

Grace: Ah, but what dreams and what stories are born of the dark and the cold of winter - stories that promise the return of light and warmth. This is the time to go deep into the Bear's Cave and find what new life wishes to be born.

Interesting that you mention Australia, where a typical Christmas dinner is a barbie on the beach, since it is now high summer there. I was just saying to a fellow-Aussie that though I can't immediately think of a Koori (Aboriginal) equivalent of Santa, he would probably go flying on the back of a dolphin or a flying fox or a sea eagle rather than a reindeer.

Grace said...

Excuse me for blogging again, but as the dream of this arctic wilderness comes back into my awareness, I realize it has a seed of hope for us who are growing older in this youth oriented society (ALL of us are there every day as time passes) . What is the joy that the elderly can experience? What is the only joy we can feel as we leave behind this earthly plane, it is the gift of giving to others. those we leave here on this earth, our children .all children are our children. In all of life there is a kernel of hope that to me speaks of giving to others. Somehow here I see hope that soothes the pain of the passing of time. Winter turns to spring, but there is this gift in the heart of winter. I'm not at all sure I am communicating this clearly, but everyone is always talking about the hope and joy of the season, this is one journey (your story) that seems to bring it all together and offers a true gift for all of matter where we live we all experience a winter...

Unknown said...

What a beautiful and inspired story! It reminds me of when I saw Santa flying in the night sky as a child. My family laughed, but I saw it as clear as my hand in front of me. I was crushed when later I was told Santa did not exist by a fellow student. My Mother was heartbroken and cried too because she always thought no one believed more than I did.
Since then, I have always loved and believed in Santa.....I see it as a choice of mine whether I believe or not. In my Santa~ he has been a Laplander ( of which when I did my mitrocondal DNA, ( yes we can do this) was surprised to see I am Laplander, genetically speaking....)
I am up North now, in near Blizzard conditions, with day 10 of having no power at the house. My children are in CT, far from me and this is hard for me today. This was just the medicine I needed today. I share this story with my child self who also needed to hear this:)
Blessings and Merry Christmas to you Robert and all fellow Dreamers!

Unknown said...

This story is so heart and earth centered that it teaches the correct place for humans in relation to the earth and other creatures.

The part where the boy stands before the stag and trembles out of love for the animal and for his people, the death that must occur and the life it brings, opens my heart again to these truths.

Adult, heart felt, creative, life giving, affimative of the life force in the earth and animals.

This really could be a watershed book for everyone, child and adult.

Ahhhh....a series!!!!! yes, yes, yes, Robert!

Unknown said...

Susan, bless your heart! Stay warm with all of our words.

Isn't wonderful to be connected to people who are dreamers from the heart?

Karolyn said...

Oh Robert that was simply entrancing! As a grown-up/little girl who has never stopped believing in Santa and magic, the Shamanic origins of Santa's identity rings true! Santa is the first real Drummer Boy!!! (My favorite Christmas tale & movie) It will be part of my Christmas tradition to read it to believers and those who want to believe, to have the magic "drummed" back into them instead of what was drummed out of them! Thank you for keeping the magic alive!

Patricia said...

Delightful! Great for a book for children of all ages.

Rich! ... "Santa has been doing that ever since. When he drums, hearts open like the roofs of houses, and shining gifts come pouring down."

I think I'l start using the phrase "the world of Meanies", it makes my heart giggle a bit and will call up the feeling of this story.


Helen Adams said...

A tale of magic, wisdom, beauty, wild joy and powerful energy. The child in me loved it so much and wants more of these living, breathing stories.

Aurel Mocanu said...

Such a wonderful and healing journey ! Caught my heart and made me cry-smile . Yes , Santa Claus exists ! He must have been the one telling this story ! :) Thank you !

Michele said...

You've added immense depth to the story of Santa as a Shaman! What a magically real and heartwarming story. And what a gift to read it on this snowy solstice night! Yay! I believe you've inspired me to follow the beat of the drum in my dreams tonight...

Robert Moss said...

Thank you all, and warm and bright thoughts to Susan in her corner of the frozen North! (I can't help thinking that when the lights are out, we have a better view of the stars, and sometimes even the Star.) I think Santa has arrived early, in the spirit of all these fresh and heart-centered words. As I read them, I hear the little drummer boy playing, and the reindeer beginning to rise from his drum.

Yiskah said...

Robert, thank you for publishing this story. I just read it to Phaelan in front of the crackling woodstove. As I mentioned, he only just learned about Santa- (and the tooth fairy and sex)- in the days before his eleventh birthday.

This line really grabbed him, "It was the kind of drum you can ride...(he) learned to tap, tap, tap with his bone hammer until the winds changed and the air was filled with drumming hooves." Then he was hooked and fully along for the ride.

He drank in this story like Dreamer himself, and satisfied, just went off to bed.
Which I will now do, warm and sate. Lila Tov.

Robert Moss said...

Hi Jessica: Great to picture an eleven-year-old's imagination crackling like the fire, and riding with the drum. Some of our active dreamers with young children are incorporating actual drumming into dramatizations of this story, and having a fabulous time. I think Santa approves!

Karen Dreamrider said...

I clearly remember the moment that I finally admitted to myself that Santa was not real. I was alone, walking home from school, thinking about Christmas, and though I had actually sort of known for a long time, I simply hadn't wanted to accept it was true that there really was no Santa. I had put off facing the facts all the way until the fifth grade. It was a really sad moment because it felt as if it meant that the whole world really had no magic in it at all.

I hadn't realized until I read your story what a terrible loss this actually was for my soul. I have spent a great deal of time and energy in my life trying to relocate this magic.

The dreamwork has really helped!

My nephew is nine years old and he is starting to doubt the existence of Santa and has asked his parents for the truth of who really does put the gifts under the tree. They have kept his belief in Santa alive for this season but I'm sure it will be the last.

I am going to rush the story to them so they can share it with my nephew and help him keep magic and dreaming and miracles alive inside himself as he grows into manhood.

Thank you for your wonderful work!

Robert Moss said...

Dear Karen: I think we do lose a part of our soul, and a piece of of our creative power, when we part company with the child in us who believes in magic. My First Santa is a shaman, and one of the specialities of the shaman as healer is to find lost souls and put them where they belong. The best toys he could bring down the chimneys - for us "grown-ups" - might well be the keys to our magical inner children, like those I describe elsewhere in this blog (in "The Emperor of Enchantment"). Do let us know the nine-year-old's response to The First Santa. Ride on, Dreamrider!

Sherry said...

Thanks for the Santa story, Robert. I'm saving it to share with my boys. I agree with the others. It will make a wonderful children's book. However, until it's published, I will use the story as is and let them color it with their minds.

Robert Moss said...

Hey Sherry: Merry Christmas! Do let me know what your boys make of the story and whether they have questions or would want to add anything.

Artful Alchemist said...

Oh, Robert! This is such a powerful story full of rich imagery. Don't know why I missed it last year, but thanks so much for sharing the link again this year. I have forwarded the link on to all in my dreaming circle. Many blessings to you this holiday season and throughout the New Year. May your own drum continue to open hearts all over the world!

Jill Stephanie Morgyn said...

You are a true story-teller: the shaman's stories are spiritual gifts that bring healing when they are told. Thank you so much for your gift of healing - to this boy and to all of us, who lost our belief in the magical realm at some point in our lives due to the persuasiveness of the Meanies.

Love Light Qi
Jill Morgyn

Patricia said...

This time, to call up the feeling of this magical story, I would imagine myself standing on the hillside at the farm in northern Norway. The wind is just right. Ah there a faint drum sound and the starlight is so bright against the clear dark sky. Perhaps if I get my sleeping bag and just rest a bit I could dream of this Santa Shaman dancing with Aurora across the midnight sky.

Merry Christmas Robert.


Robert Moss said...

Thanks Patty, Jill and Artful One -Merry Christmas and Joyous Solstice to you and yours!